Arthur's life was now pent within a narrower course than ever hitherto. With the exception of Mark Challenger and William Noble he saw no friends, and even these very occasionally. During the day he worked hard for his living, but throughout those hours of labour, as at every other moment of his working time, his thoughts revolved around the petty circumstances of his home life. All wider aims and aspirations seemed to have perished from his mind; if ever his thoughts recurred to them it was to dwell upon them as the vanished joys of a past life. For six months the single room which he occupied with his wife was the sole scene of his existence. It becomes our duty now to trace out as rapidly as is consistent with clear delineation the drama which was there played.
Arthur brought his wife home in an intoxication of joy and hope. Carrie was now his, his to guard, to foster, to cherish; his, moreover, to lead into higher paths than her feet had yet known, to develop, in short, into the ideal woman that his imagination had for years loved to depict. He resolved that this should henceforth be the main task of his life. In long conversations with William Noble he exposed all his plans and hopes, asking and receiving advice in detail, and always deriving encouragement from this clear-headed and warm-hearted friend. From Noble he concealed nothing. The assurance of the latter's sincere friendship was invaluable to him, and helped to support him in many an hour of what would otherwise have been despair.
He lost not a day in commencing the plan he had conceived for Carrie's education. She must first be taught to read, write and speak with correctness. When on the first day of their married life, Arthur drew Carrie to his side, and in a gentle but firm tone of explanation told her of his intention, she listened with a peculiar expression of countenance, partly amused, partly astonished, partly apprehensive, but wholly incomprehensive. Notwithstanding the seriousness of Arthur's demeanour she evidently felt convinced that it was some curious joke he was playing on her, but a joke of which she was not quite able to understand the fun.
"For how long did you go to school at home, Carrie?" asked Arthur, holding her upon his knee and caressing her long dark hair as he spoke.
"Two years, I think," she replied.
"And what did they teach you at school?"
"Why, what do they always teach at schools? Reading and writing, of course."
"What else is there to be taught?"
"No geography, or history?"
"I don't know what that is," she replied, with a somewhat contemptuous smile on her beautiful features. "No, they didn't teach me that."
"But I am sure you would like to know all these, and to be a clever woman, wouldn't you, dearest?"
Carrie shrugged her shoulders a little, but made no immediate reply. Arthur was about to proceed in his coaxing when she interrupted him.
"Do you ever earn more than forty-five shillings a week, Arthur?" she asked, passing her fingers through the hair upon his forehead.
"Oh, never mind that at present," he said, laughing. "Let us talk a little about your education. Will Carrie promise to do as I wish her and spend a few hours a day in teaching herself to read well and write without mistakes?"
"I shan't never be able to do that," she replied, shaking her head and evidently thinking of something widely different.
"Shan't ever, you mean," corrected Arthur.
She looked at him in surprise.
"You won't mind me correcting you when you make mistakes in speaking, will you, dearest?" said Arthur.
"Oh, then we shan't be able to talk at all," returned Carrie, rather pettishly. "You say I make so many mistakes, and I'm sure I shan't never be no better, however much you trouble."
Arthur thrust his fingers into his ears and made a wry face as though something had hurt him.
"Shan't ever be any better, you mean," he said. "Never mind, Carrie; you will get better for all that; I am determined you shall. Now, here's a book. Let me hear you read a little."
Carrie took the volume and inspected it for a few moments, then, in all probability finding it beyond her powers, gave it back to Arthur.
"Oh, what's the good of it all?" she asked, impatiently. "It won't make me cook dinners no better."
The conversation was long and curious, but, by the exercise of wonderful patience and good-humour, aided, of course, by the deep love he bore her, Arthur succeeded at length in persuading Carrie to let him set her brief and easy tasks, which she faithfully promised she would perform in his absence from home during the following day. There were a few words of which the spelling was to be learnt, half a page to write in a copy-book, and a short piece of poetry to get by heart.
On the following evening Arthur returned home with a glad and hopeful heart. Hoping to give Carrie a pleasant surprise he stole upstairs in the completest silence. The door of his room was closed, but he could perceive that a light burnt within; though he listened he could hear no voice. He knocked, in the manner of a stranger. In a moment Carrie opened the door, and, peering into the darkness, instantly saw who it was, then with a joyful cry sprang and threw her arms around his neck. The room was in nice order; the few additional articles of furniture which Arthur had procured for Carrie's special pleasure were neatly arranged round the room, and the cloth spread upon the table gave hopeful promise of dinner. But what gave Arthur still more joy was the sight of Carrie's copy-book lying open on the side-table, as if she had just been occupied at it.
Resolved not to become a pedantic bore, Arthur ate his dinner with vast enjoyment, and then devoted half an hour to lover's-talk with Carrie, before he broached the subject of lessons.
"Has the day seemed long, darling?" he asked at length, by way of getting round to the delicate topic.
"Oh, very long," she replied. "I don't know what I shall do without you always, Arthur."
"But I see your copy-book there. That's a good sign. Come, let me look at what you have done, Carrie."
"Oh, not to-night," she answered. "I haven't done much, and it's dreadful bad."
"Never mind, let me see. You are not afraid of me, Carrie?"
At length he persuaded her to bring him the book. Two lines were written, and it was no exaggeration to say they were "dreadful bad."
"There, I knew you'd only make fun of me," said Carrie, snatching the book from his hand, as she noticed a slight elevation of the eyebrows which he could not resist.
"I shouldn't dream of making fun of you, darling," he replied earnestly. "It is too grave a matter for joking. Now let me show you how you can do it better next time. Come and sit by me at the table, love, and bring your pen."
"No, not now," she persisted impatiently. "I'm tired to death. If you'd had a room to clean up and a dinner to cook, you wouldn't want to be bothering with reading and writing."
Arthur was silent for a moment, sitting with downcast eyes. "But I have been hard at work all day, Carrie," he urged gently, as soon as he could trust his voice. "I think my work is at least as hard as yours; and yet I am anxious to do more now for your sake, dearest. Besides yours has been only work with the hands. You can listen to what I say, and rest at the same time: Come and sit by me, Carrie."
With some hesitation she took a chair at his side. Carrie had a slow, sidling way of walking which was never very agreeable to see, and the ungracious way in which she now obeyed his request gave Arthur acute pain.
"Where are the other books?" he asked, quietly. "Have you learnt the spelling and the poetry?"
She looked away from him and made no answer.
"Weren't you able to do it, dearest?" he asked, passing his arm affectionately round her. "Did you try, Carrie?"
"Yes, I tried," she returned. "But the words were too hard, and I couldn't understand the other stuff a bit."
"The other stuff" signified the first three verses of the "Ancient Mariner." Arthur felt annoyed to hear a favourite poem so designated.
"But it is very simple, dear," he urged. "Let us read it together, and I'm sure you will understand it."
"Oh, what's the use of bothering!" she returned. "I'm tired now. I'll look at it again to-morrow."
Then she added, directly, "Arthur, where do you keep the money you save?"
This was agony to him. It is all very well to say that on the second day after his marriage he ought to have been as much in love with his wife as to care for nothing but listening to her heedless talk and to think everything worthy of detestation which caused her the least annoyance. Arthur's nature being what it was, such love as this was impossible to him. What he intensely loved, he could not but wish intensely to respect. The pity which had originated his love was in itself a species of respect; he had convinced himself by force of emotion that Carrie could not deserve the suffering she endured, and he had almost reverenced her as an instance of unmerited misfortune. Then of course her striking personal beauty had forced him to look up to her as something superior. He could not believe that such outward perfection could exist with a common-place and sterile nature. When he openly declared to her his affection, the warmth with which she reciprocated it had added another link to his chain by convincing him of the strength of her feelings. He felt that an indifferent, passionless woman would have been intolerable to him. But now a vague dread began to encroach like an unnatural darkness upon his heart, a terrible fear lest he might have deceived himself not only with regard to her intelligence, but also as to the extent of her affection for him. He could not bear the suspicion. At all costs he must throw it off. Possibly it might force itself on him later, gain ground surely and with the pitiless persistency of fate, but as yet it was too, too early. Why, he had scarcely tasted the fulness of his joy; should the cup already be dashed from his lips?
"There, never mind the books to-night, Carrie!" he exclaimed gaily. "Throw away the copy-book! we will think of them again to-morrow. Look cheerful again, darling. Come and sit on my knee and tell me how much you love me."
Carrie was all radiance at once, and as pretty a lovers' tattle followed as novelist might wish to chronicle; but -- somehow or other I have no taste for it. Perhaps the shadow of coming events falls already upon me and makes me gloomy.
A week elapsed. The first lesson had at length been struggled through, though with little good result as regards Carrie's temper. In the ensuing week Arthur had calculated that he would be more exacting. He began by persistent correction of his wife's speech, which was indeed faulty enough. The speedy result was that he brought about an outbreak of temper such as he had never conceived possible.
"Why don't you let me speak as I'm used to?" cried Carrie, starting up with flashing eyes, one night when Arthur had interrupted her in every sentence for a quarter of an hour. "What's the good of tormenting me in that way. If you wanted to marry a grammar-machine you should have looked somewheres else, and not have taken up with me! You can understand what I mean, well enough, and what more do you want, I'd like to know? I shan't speak at all, that's what I shall do, and then maybe you'll be satisfied."
And she flung herself into a chair by the fire-side, with her back to Arthur.
Arthur's temper was severely tried. For some minutes he bit his lips to restrain the angry words which all but made their way. His face burned and his throat was so dry and hot that he could scarcely breathe.
"You are unkind and unjust to speak so to me, Carrie," he began at length. "Do you think I do it to annoy you? Do you think I take a pleasure in it? I assure you I do it as a duty; I force myself to correct you when I would gladly think of other things."
"Then why do you give yourself the bother?" retorted Carrie, without moving. "No one wants you."
"But you should want me to," persisted Arthur, drawing near to her, and speaking in a calm though forcible tone of explanation. "Can't you see, Carrie, that it is for your own good? Do you like to make mistakes in speaking?"
"Do you wish to render my whole life miserable, Carrie?" he pursued. "It lies in your power either to make me completely happy or completely wretched. Do you prefer to make me wretched?"
It was an important sentence. Had Arthur been cool enough to reflect on the experience he had already acquired of woman's illogicality, he would never have ventured to speak thus.
"Oh, I make you miserable, do I?" she said, starting up from her chair. "I can precious soon take myself off. Perhaps you'll be happy then. Let me go past! I've earnt my living before now, and I dare say I can do it again. I won't stay here any longer to make you miserable."
Arthur was in despair. With trembling fingers Carrie was putting on her hat and jacket, and seemed in earnest in her purpose to depart. He felt that he had not deserved this treatment. A burning sense of injustice raged within his heart, and withheld him from confessing that he was wrong, and begging for pardon. Doubtless, also, there was something of stubbornness in his disposition. Though Carrie was a long time in dressing, much longer than was necessary, he did not stir to prevent her. He stood with his eyes fixed upon the floor.
She was dressed, but did not move towards the door. After a few moments of absolute silence, she moved towards him and held out her hand.
"Good-bye, Arthur," she said. "I don't want to make you miserable longer than I can help."
The last word was broken with a sob. Arthur looked up and saw that the tears were coursing fast down her cheeks. This was too much. In a moment he folded her in his arms, and kissed away the tears with passionate warmth.
"Why will you so cruelly misunderstand me, darling?" he whispered, as she leaned her head upon his shoulder. "Do you think I take a pleasure in annoying you? Some day you will see the reason of all I say and do, and you will thank me for taking such pains with you. It's terrible for me to make you so angry. Promise me, dear Carrie, that you will try to understand me better, that you will try to do as I wish. Indeed, indeed, it is for your good. Will you believe me, darling?"
In this way at length the quarrel was made up, but the same night Arthur, with great difficulty, succeeded in getting permission from Carrie to visit William Noble, and to him he made known all his afflictions. Noble listened attentively, but with a pained expression on his countenance.
"This is very soon to begin quarrelling, Golding," he said, when his friend had done. "Don't you think you are too peremptory, too exacting? You must remember the old proverb, that Rome wasn't built in a day; and I can assure you there is nothing requiring so much tact, patience and quiet perseverance as the education of a grown-up person, especially a woman. You must not expect too much you know."
"Good God!" exclaimed Arthur, impatiently, "is it possible for a man to entertain more humble pretentions than I do? Is it too much to beg and pray her to write and read for half-an-hour a day? Am I too exacting when I rejoice if she learns to spell only one word of two syllables, or corrects some single outrageous error in her pronunciation? Do you think this too much to expect, Noble?"
"It doesn't appear very exorbitant, does it?" returned William, smiling. "But there is a great deal in manner, you know. Do you think you are gentle enough? Don't you lose patience too quickly, and correct her harshly?"
"How can you ask me such questions, Noble? Isn't she my wife, and haven't I told you that, spite of all her imperfections, I love her passionately, and would not retract my steps for the world! How is it possible that I could speak harshly to her? I use the gentlest persuasions. I put it to her in every possible form I know, that she ought to do this for her own sake."
"How does she employ her days?" asked Noble.
"Oh, women always find enough to do," replied his friend. "She sews a good deal, she has the meals to prepare, and walks out now and then when it is fine. But all that would leave her plenty of time to do what I ask of her."
"Has she any kind of society besides your own?"
"Most unfortunately not," replied Arthur, "and that is one of the sore points. The landlady is a very decent woman, and would willingly afford her company now and then, but Carrie has conceived a most inexplicable dislike to her. I can't persuade her from it; in this, as in many other matters, she is terribly self-willed."
"You must confess, Golding," said Noble, "that this loneliness is a very bad thing for her. When one spends day after day in solitariness, one loses energy, and acquires a distaste for everything."
"True, but how can it be avoided? It isn't likely I could permit her to return to her old acquaintances of the workrooms, and her relatives she will certainly have nothing to do with. You see, I am such a lonely fellow myself; I cannot boast a female acquaintance except my wife."
"Well, well, we must hope for better things," said Noble, encouragingly. "Depend upon it she will find suitable friends before very long. In the meantime, Golding, you must exercise the utmost forbearance. Remember what a tremendous responsibility you have taken upon yourself. I don't think you are the man for shirking a duty, however disagreeable, Golding. Your way is clear before you, and, so long as you don't stray from it, I fear you must be content at present with scarcely perceptible progress. Whatever you do, you mustn't make your wife miserable; better she should be ignorant than unhappy. To make her happy is the first aim of your life, the second is to train her to prefer a higher kind of happiness to that she has always been content with."
Arthur was silent for some moments, reflecting. Then he rose to depart, and held out his hand, which his friend grasped.
"You are always a true comforter," he said; "you give encouragement of the highest kind, Noble. I am afraid I make but a poor figure compared with a man of your grand energy. Do you know, I have often felt lately as if I were out of place in the world, as if the work I had before me wasn't my true work. I don't know whether you can understand this?"
"Partly, perhaps," said Noble, with a sigh. "I know the feeling occasionally myself, but I always struggle against it. The true philosophy is to consider whatever work you have to do as the true work, and to do it with all your might. Depend upon it the feeling is not a symptom of health, Golding."
Arthur was just going, when he again turned.
"Noble," he said, with some little hesitation, "have you mentioned my marriage to any of your acquaintances?"
"To no one."
"May I ask you always to be as silent -- with everyone?"
"I will be so."
"Thanks, Noble; you will oblige me. Good-night."
It would be a tedious and unedifying task to relate the daily life of the new-married couple in persistent detail. The days which I have described are a fair example of every day during the first month. Arthur continued to exert himself to the utmost for Carrie's education, but always with insignificant result. Once or twice he all but made up his mind that the task he had set himself was vain, that it meant nothing but lifelong misery to Carrie and himself, and that it would be infinitely better to cease to care for these matters, and to preserve domestic quietude at the expense of his wife's advancement. But to this he could not reconcile himself; it would have been to relinquish too much, to render himself degraded in his own eyes, and immeasurably to lessen the love he had for his wife. He asked himself what their marriage would become if he once despaired of raising Carrie to his own level. He would lose all that had rendered it most delightful to him, that precious sense of the performance of a lofty task which seemed necessary to his existence. If it were to degenerate into a mere vulgar connection, subsisting mainly upon sensual emotions, he felt that it would hang upon him like a crushing weight, a veritable degrading weight of fetters. What did it mean then, this love which he still felt convinced of? If he had loved his wife merely for her own sake, surely he would have been happy with her under any circumstances which gave her happiness? But what, he asked himself, trembling at the very thought, what if it were but a false love after all, a passion like that of Ixion for a mere insubstantial fancy? What if he had fallen in love with an ideal, clothing it with Carrie's outward beauty? If the soul of the ideal vanished, could he love the frame for its own sake; or, if at moments he felt he could, was it not the hot blood of youth which spoke, instead of his sober reason?
He had no reason to think Carrie particularly extravagant in the expenditure of the money he allowed her weekly for house expenses, but still he could not prevail upon her to keep any kind of accounts. Any mention of the desirability of doing so was sure to awaken that acute spirit of suspicion which seemed ever lurking in her mind.
"So you can't trust me!" she suddenly replied one night, when he had brought home a neat little account-book, and begged her to try and make use of it. "Do you think I make waste of the money? If you think so, you'd better not give me so much."
Remonstrance was quite in vain. She appeared hurt at the idea of being asked to keep an account of her expenditures; so that Arthur was fain to drop all mention of it, and sigh in secret over another defeat.
One morning, as he was walking quickly down Huntley Street in the direction of his work, he was surprised at finding himself suddenly stopped by the landlady of the house in which he had established Carrie previous to their marriage. She was standing in the doorway, and called out, "Eh! eh!" at the same time making signs to him as he went along the opposite side of the street. He crossed over, wondering much what the woman could want with him.
"Could you let me 'ave 'alf-a-minute's talk?" she asked, beckoning him to enter the house. Arthur had never much liked her appearance. At present she was slatternly in the extreme, and had the look about the eyes which distinguishes persons who have but lately slept off a debauch. He noticed that her hands trembled, and that her voice was rather hoarse. When he had stepped into the passage, she asked --
"Do you know as your wife owes me five shillings?"
"For what?" returned Arthur, in surprise. He had not even been aware that this woman knew him as Carrie's husband. "I thought all expenses were paid when she left."
"No, no, they wasn't," replied the woman. "Far from it. There was five diff'rent shillin's owin' me for brandy."
"For brandy!" exclaimed Arthur, aghast.
"Yes, for brandy. She used to say as how a drop did her good when she felt weak, an' so I s'plied her, yer see -- five diff'rent shillin's-worths."
"But did you ask her for the money?"
"Oh, yes; an' she said as how she'd pay me soon, for she couldn't at the time. But I've been to see her at your 'ouse three or four times, an' she always puts me horff. So I thought as how the best plan 'ud be to arst you for it."
"Well," said Arthur, "of course I can't pay you without making some inquiry into the matter. I will speak to my wife about it to-night, and if she admits the debt I will pay you to-morrow. Good-morning."
And he hurried off, leaving the woman looking after him with a hideous grin upon her face. The thought of this affair destroyed Arthur's peace throughout the day. If this brandy had been in reality procured for medicinal purposes why should Carrie hesitate to tell him of the debt? But if there were no truth in this assertion. That was a supposition upon which he durst not dwell. He remembered, however, the intimacy which Carrie had spoken of as existing between herself and that woman, and this, when he considered the latter's appearance and manner, was anything but an agreeable thought. The moment that the day's work was over, he hurried anxiously home, resolved to lose no time in solving his doubts.
Carrie met him as usual with open arms and an affectionate kiss.
"Carrie," he said, holding her slightly away from him, "how is it you always eat so much peppermint?"
"Do you notice it?" she returned, colouring very slightly.
"Notice it! I have frequently been overpowered with the smell of peppermint."
"Oh, I always have some by me," she cried, gaily. "These are my favourite eating. Look, you shall have some yourself."
And she fetched a small paper of lozenges from the mantelpiece.
"Taste them," she said. "They're the best I ever bought, and only three half-pence an ounce. Take some."
"Not before dinner, thanks," replied Arthur, his thoughts too much fixed on one matter to join in his wife's gaiety. He resolved to say nothing, however, till dinner was over. Carne's sharp eyes at once discerned that something had occurred to annoy him, and occasionally she watched him through the meal. Had Arthur regarded her in turn he would have noticed that her eyes were unusually bright, but he kept his own fixed upon his plate, and spoke very little. Carrie scarcely ate anything at all; she said she had no appetite.
After long reflection as to how he should broach the subject which monopolised his thoughts, Arthur resolved that the best way was to proceed to the point without circumlocution.
"Carrie," he said, steadily regarding her across the table, "is it true that you owe your old landlady five shillings?"
Carrie returned his look with one of alarmed surprise. But it only lasted a second, as well as the sudden blush which had risen to her cheek.
"Who has been telling you that?" she returned, with an affectation of nonchalance which did not sit well on her.
"Never mind who has told me. Is it true that you owe the money?"
"I suppose she has told you herself, has she?" said Carrie.
"Yes, she has."
"And she told you I owed it her for brandy?"
"She did, as I passed her house this morning," replied Arthur, regarding her gravely.
"Did you pay it?" asked Carrie, after a brief pause, in which she seemed hurriedly to reflect.
"Certainly not. The demand appeared to me so extraordinary that I couldn't think of paying it till I had asked you about the matter. Whatever did you want with five shillings worth of brandy?"
"Well, I'm glad you didn't pay it," she replied. "It's all a lie. I don't owe her five shillings at all."
"But what is the foundation of her claim then?"
"I'll tell you how it is, Arthur. Several times whilst I was there, I was ill and faint, and I asked the landlady to let me have a little brandy. When I was going away I asked her how much I owed her for it, and she said five shillings. Then I told her I wasn't such a fool as all that, and I didn't owe not nearly as much, more like one shilling than five. But she wouldn't take one, so I said I shouldn't pay at all."
There was so much of sincerity in her tone and manner as she gave this account, that Arthur could not but believe it. It raised a terrible load from his breast, and his face brightened up wonderfully.
"Then," said he, "I shall go and offer her two shillings to-morrow morning, and if she isn't content with that she must do without payment."
"You needn't trouble to do that," replied Carrie. "She came here whilst you were away this morning and told me she had asked you for this money: So to save bother I paid her half-a-crown, and she was satisfied."
Arthur looked surprised.
"She has been here several times lately, hasn't she?" he asked.
"Once or twice."
"But why not have told me of it, Carrie? It would have saved a great deal of trouble."
"Oh, I didn't like to bother you about it," she replied, beginning to remove the plates from the table.
She was in a wonderfully good humour all that evening, and delighted Arthur by being the first to propose that she should have her usual reading lesson. She read aloud to him from "Robinson Crusoe" for half an hour, making not more than four or five blunders in each line, and being corrected with the utmost patience. Then she wrote a line or two in her copybook, whilst Arthur sat, pretending to read, but in reality watching her. It needed very little to re-excite hope in his breast, and he felt to-night that he had been foolish to despair so early. The full tide of love once more deluged his heart, and he was perfectly happy.
In the morning Carrie took the opportunity of bright sunshine to propose that she should accompany Arthur for a short distance on the way to his work. Her proposal was joyfully accepted, and the two set out together rather earlier than usual. They did not take the nearest way, directly down Huntley Street, but, in accordance with Carrie's wish, made a circuit by Tottenham Court Road. For this she made some idle excuse, and Arthur, far too happy to spoil her pleasure, yielded without a thought.
When Carrie returned alone, she did not go straight home, but stopped and knocked at the door of her old abode. The landlady opened to her.
"Oh," began the latter, "so you re come at last."
"Yes, I have, Mrs. Pole," returned Carrie, with an indignant air. "And I'd like to know what call you had to go telling my husband about that money you make out I owe you."
"Come in, come in," said Mrs. Pole, closing the door, and leading the way downstairs into the kitchen. "Why, there's no call to have words over it. I only did what I told you I'd do, and what anyone else i' my place 'ud a' done. It ain't likely as I could afford to lose five bob, is it now? An' so you're come to pay, I s'pose?"
"I haven't come to pay five shillings, Mrs. Pole," returned Carrie, "and nothing like it; so you needn't think I'm such a fool as to do it. I don't owe you so much, and what's more you know I don't."
"So help me God!" exclaimed the woman, you owe me every penny of five bob, and you know it. There was 'alf a quartern o' brandy that day as you come an' told me you was too lazy to fetch it yourself; there was another 'alf quartern that day as you got wet and come into this very kitchen to dry your boots before the fire; then there was a 'ole quartern that night as you went with my Ann to the Hoxford ----"
"Oh! How can you say so!" broke in Carrie. "In the first place that wasn't brandy at all. It was gin hot, and there wasn't even half a quartern of it, so don't tell lies whatever you do, Mrs. Pole."
Mrs. Pole recriminated, and the conversation -- if conversation it can be called -- endured nearly an hour and a half. The end of it was that Carrie paid three and sixpence, and received a receipt for it.
"Well, we're not goin' to part hunfriendly, I'm sewer," said Mrs. Pole, when the business was thus satisfactorily arranged. "You've drove me 'ard, but I don't mind standin' somethink for all that. What's it to be? A drop o' brandy?"
"No, no," replied Carrie, laughing. "No more brandy. If it must be something, say a drop of whiskey hot."
"Well, I likes whiskey myself, for a change," said Mrs. Pole, and forthwith dispatched a girl to fetch the required amount. The consumption of this beverage took up another hour, after which Carrie hurried home.
One evening, shortly after this episode, Arthur returned home at the usual time, and, as usual, very hungry. Carrie had been growing somewhat careless of late in the preparation of meals, frequently being nearly half an hour behindhand with the dinner. To-night was a case in point. When Arthur entered, the table still exhibited the remains of that morning's breakfast, and a fire almost out gave little promise of the speedy provision of a meal. It had been a dark, miserable, rainy day. Arthur was wet through and weary, and had been looking forward all the way home to a bright fire to warm and cheer him.
"Really, this is too bad, Carrie!" he exclaimed on entering. "What ever have you been doing all day? Have you been out?"
She was apparently occupied in regarding something which lay on the side table, and for the moment made no reply.
"Carrie!" he repeated, with more emphasis, "why do I come home and find the room in this state?"
"Well, there's nothing to make a noise about," she replied, slowly turning towards him. "You can't always expect to have everything ready the minute you want it."
Arthur knew not how to speak. These little scenes had become so frequent of late, starting in every imaginable petty case, that he dreaded to do anything to provoke one. The constant recurrence of such annoyances operated upon his nervous nature with terrible effect; he would have undergone almost any privation rather than have suffered all the agonies of these vexatious quarrels which were so often forced upon him. At present, therefore, he made no reply, but began to take off his wet things, watching in silence for Carrie to prepare the meal. But she was still regarding the same object on the side-table, and showed no sign of leaving it.
"What are you doing there?" Arthur asked, with sudden impatience, moving towards her.
She caught up a sheet of paper from the table and held it behind her back.
"What have you got?" he repeated. "Why don't you speak?"
There was a peculiar look upon her countenance such as Arthur had never seen there before, and which he did not in the least understand. Suddenly she drew the paper from behind her back and held it out for him to look at. With surprise and pain he saw that it was his memory-portrait of Helen Norman.
"Who is that?" she asked, a light gleaming in her eyes which Arthur now recognised as that of jealousy. He replied to her with another question.
"How did you find it?"
"I found it in your box."
"And what were you looking for there?" Arthur asked, angry to think of all the dear remembrances of his past life being turned over by one who could neither understand the drawings themselves nor the feelings which they represented. "I thought I left it locked."
"So you did, but I have a key that fits it."
"Then I ask you, what were you looking for there?"
"Can't I look over your things if I choose?" returned Carrie. "It's a nice thing if one can't be trusted by one's own husband! It doesn't look a very good sign when things are hidden away out of sight and kept secret. Who is this?"
It was impossible for Arthur to reply to this question; not merely because he was angry and indisposed to yield a point, but because he felt that to have mentioned her name under such circumstances would have been profanation.
"It is an imaginary face," he answered. "Are you satisfied?"
"A what face?"
"An imaginary face -- a face drawn from my own fancy. Give it me at once!"
This was altogether beyond Carrie's understanding. To her mind every picture must be a likeness; how else could it have come into existence? She smiled with angry scorn, but on meeting Arthur's eye, in which real anger was now beginning to burn, she hesitated before proceeding in her taunts.
"Give it me at once!" repeated Arthur, in a sterner voice than he had ever yet used to his wife. It was torture to him to see her sneering at the picture; it was desecration for it to remain in her hands.
"If I give it you will you tear it up?" asked Carrie, holding the drawing close to her.
"Certainly not!" replied Arthur. "Why should I destroy it?"
"That shows; that shows!" cried Carrie, tauntingly. "I knew it was somebody. It was put away carefully by itself. I know very well it's someone!"
"And even if it were," said Arthur, angrily, "what does it matter?"
"There, I knew!" cried Carrie. "You shan't keep it; I'll tear it first!"
Pale with rage he felt compelled to suppress, Arthur suddenly stepped towards her and seized the drawing from her grasp. In a moment she sprang forward, and, even as he held it, rent it fiercely in two. Without speaking a word, Arthur gathered up the remnants, folded them carefully, and with them in his hand walked from the house.
It was none of Arthur's intention to quit his wife for good. Angry as he was, his was not a nature which could allow itself to be led wholly astray by blind passion, and, as he descended the stairs, he said to himself that he would be absent for a few hours, trusting to the interval both to calm his own outraged feelings and to effect a salutary change in his wife's bad temper.
It still rained, and the February wind swept the streets with cutting severity. Strong emotion had stilled the sense of hunger as effectually as a meal would have done, and although all his clothes were so wet that they clung about him, Arthur did not feel it.
Heedless of what direction he took, he walked at a rapid pace along the main streets of the neighbourhood, seeing nothing that he passed, merely obeying the impulse which led him to quick motion. As he turned the corners the cold rain lashed his face, and he felt it soothing rather than disagreeable, for his whole body burned violently. The inside of his mouth, moreover, as is usual after moments of strong anger, was terribly parched; his tongue felt like a piece of leather.
As he passed the coffee-houses, he felt that a cup of coffee would have been a great luxury to him, but he had no money with him. So completely did he place confidence in Carrie, that he always entrusted to her the whole of the money for the week, applying to her whenever he needed any, and so few were his private needs, that it was quite usual for him to be without a coin in his pocket. So he was obliged to turn his eyes from the warm interiors of the coffee-houses and to take a long, cold draught from the first drinking fountain which he passed. There also he bathed his forehead, and the moisture seemed to refresh him.
When he had so far recovered himself as to be able to reflect, he drew aside from the crowded thoroughfares into narrow and darker streets, and at length, pausing in an entrance above which hung a gas lamp, he drew the torn drawing from his pocket, and, holding the two halves together, once more regarded it.
For a long time it had lain in the very bottom of his box, for he had placed it there purposely, lest by being too near at hand it should tempt him to look at it. It was a most unfortunate circumstance that Carrie's ill-governed curiosity should have led to its discovery to-night, for all through the day Arthur's thoughts, despite his strongest efforts to turn them in another direction, had been running on Helen Norman. He had thought of the drawing, and had half persuaded himself that there would be no harm in taking the opportunity of some moment when Carrie was absent to gaze upon it once more.
What harm? he had asked himself. Was not Helen Norman as far removed from him now as if she were dead? and what harm could there be in giving himself the pleasure of looking at her picture? Then Arthur's sterner good sense had come to the rescue, and had urged that the mere fact of this being a pleasure proved that the wish should not be indulged. His honour spoke, and told him that not even in thought should he deviate from the undivided attention which he owed his wife.
Upon his return home, had he found the room neat and bright, had Carrie been in her best humour, and received him, as usual, with a kiss, then the victory would have been complete, and Helen Norman would have rested undisturbed in the portfolio at the bottom of the box.
In this way he reflected as, piecing the portrait together, he viewed its sweet outlines by the lamp-light. Insensibly he passed on to a comparison between Helen and his wife. Supposing he had married Helen, and she had one day come across a piece of evidence proving indisputably that her husband had once loved another girl, would she have acted as Carrie had done? Would she not rather have made it a subject for merry laughter and jest, have asked questions about the buried love, have sincerely sympathised with any little sadness which the recollection might have aroused, and then, after all, have set a seal upon the real and living affection with tender caresses? But he felt in his heart that such behaviour was impossible in Carrie; it was vain to expect from her the gentleness, the intelligence, the fine discrimination of such a nature as Helen's. And thereupon a fierce rush of wild regret swept over his soul, and in a burst of anguish he pressed a thousand kisses upon the mutilated face.
Intruders forced him to once more fold up the picture and pass on. But Helen's countenance had stamped itself upon his imagination, and he saw it gleaming in the darkness as he hastened along the narrow bye-ways. Helen and Carrie! 0 God! How could he bear to reflect upon the two together? In these moments every loveable look which he had ever seen on Helen's face, every tone which he had heard from her lips, every wise, good, tender word she had spoken in his presence, was as real to him as if he had been subject to its influence but a moment ago. What a spirit of sweet and noble intelligence breathed from her whole person. Intelligence -- intelligence! That, after all, was what Arthur most worshipped in her; that godlike property in virtue of which man becomes "a being of such large discourse, looking before and after."
Aye, had she been endowed with the grossest ugliness that ever weighed upon human creature, Arthur, in his present mood, felt that he should have made a goddess of her for her intelligence alone. But poor Carrie -- alas! What was all her outward beauty when she utterly lacked all trace of that divine fire, that heaven-aspiring flame which, when it burns upon the altar of the heart, permeates and sanctifies it with its glow. Who was this that he had married? What beast's nature encased in a human form?
In this hour of agony he felt that the struggle had begun; that while he aspired to highest regions of pure air, this weight to which he had immutably bound himself was dragging him down, down into the foul atmosphere of a brutal existence.
Wandering on with limbs already stiffening under fatigue, and with a mind well-nigh exhausted by the violence of his emotions, he found himself at length in Leicester Square, and mingled with the crowd of reeling revellers and painted prostitutes which is always to be found here after nightfall. Such company was dangerous to one in his mood, for how easy is it for the nature weary with struggling after an exalted ideal suddenly to fall into the opposite extreme, and find no depth of degradation sufficient for its cravings.
Before him blazed the lights of the Alhambra, and for the first time in his life he burned with passionate eagerness to see the inside of a theatre, a delight he had never yet experienced. But he was without money. Eager to relieve his thoughts from the insufferable oppression to which they had yielded, he turned his attention to the female faces which he saw passing and re-passing. How hideous were most of them! The eyes encircled with rings of dark red, the drawn lips, the cheeks whereon the paint lay in daubs of revolting coarseness, the bodies for the most part puffed into unsightly obesity -- surely there was little to invite in all this. But Arthur's passions were awakened, and he found a pleasure in the novel sensation of witnessing such scenes.
At length a young girl passed him, very different in appearance from those other women, yet none the less evidently a fille perdue. Her shape dainty and slim, her walk marked by that delightful spring which gives an impression of staginess, and her face unmistakably lovely. Without thinking why he did so, Arthur turned and followed her.
Possibly she heard his step behind her, for suddenly she stopped, turned round with a fascinating smile, and spoke to him in French. Arthur, at once abashed, turned hastily away, and walked quickly from the square.
It was past ten o'clock, and he felt that it was time to return home. Making his way slowly in the neighbourhood of Soho Square, the quietness of the street was suddenly broken by the sound of a barrel-organ which proceeded from a court close at hand. Music of any kind had always the utmost attraction for Arthur, and for a street organ he entertained the utmost liking, partly because it was almost the only kind of music he ever heard, partly because it recalled to him many happy hours of his childhood, when his toil in Little St. Andrew Street had been lightened by some heaven-sent organ-grinder's strains.
He now approached the court where the music was, and saw a little band of miserably clad children availing themselves of the Italian's good offices to enjoy a dance on the pavement. Hidden in the shadow of a wall Arthur stood and listened for nearly a quarter of an hour, whilst the organ played through a long string of hackneyed street ditties, the favourites of the day on the lips of errand-boys, the latest melodies of the music halls or the theatre. Be they what they might, to listen to them was soothing for Arthur.
Gradually his thoughts reverted to Carrie, and he felt himself able to think of her with more kindness, before long even with pity. What sort of a night had she passed alone? Doubtless she was yearning for his return. After all, she certainly loved him; for what was this outburst of absurd jealousy due to if not to the very strength of her affection, which could not brook the mere suspicion of a rival? Yes, she loved him, and what an ungrateful wretch was he to return her love with anger. Had she forced him to marry her? Had it not been by his own free will that he had taken her home as his wife? Was it not his bounden duty to bear with the fullest consequences of his own act -- nay more, to exert himself to the utmost for the poor girl's happiness? Aye, poor girl; for was she not worthy of the profoundest pity? Was it her fault that she had never been educated, that she had been born with such a small portion of intelligence? Surely not, and he was a brute, lacking in reason no less than in humane sympathy, to think of her as he had done. He would make full reparation; he would bear with her utmost humours. Above all he would never do her the wrong to despair of her elevation to a higher stage of culture.
He hurried homewards, now eager to arrive. As he turned into Huntley Street he had to pass a public-house, about the door of which was collected a little crowd. From the midst came the shrill voices of two women, high in dispute. Drawn on by curiosity, he caught a glimpse of the wranglers, and -- horror! he saw that Carrie was one of them, the other being her old landlady, Mrs. Pole. Carrie was hatless, her hair streaming in wildest disorder, her dress torn in places, her face swollen and tear-stained. Even as Arthur stood gazing, struck into momentary paralysis, the other woman rushed at her with the violence of a fury, and the language of a Billingsgate fishwife, and struck her repeatedly about the head. In a moment Arthur had violently forced a passage through the crowd, and, how he knew not, had dragged Carrie from the midst of it into the open street. She seemed incapable of walking, and only leaned against him, gasping out his name with hysterical repetition. Calling to the crowd to keep back the woman, who had begun to pursue, he lifted Carrie bodily into his arms, and, with a strength he could not ordinarily have exerted, bore her rapidly along to their own door. He entered, and supported her up the stairs to their own room.
As soon as he had lit a candle, Arthur saw that the room was just as he had left it, in cheerless disorder. He could not for a moment doubt what had led to the hideous scene he had just been in time to interrupt. Carrie was quite unable to stand, and her breath filled the room with the smell of spirits.
Seating her with difficulty upon the bed, he held both her hands, and gazed into her face with unutterable anguish.
"Carrie! Carrie!" he repeatedly exclaimed, "for Heaven's sake tell me what this means! What have you been doing? Where have you been?"
She made no reply, but sobbed hysterically, and floods of tears streamed from her eyes. To his repeated questions she at length muttered some kind of unintelligible reply. She evidently had no clear knowledge of her situation. It was vain to endeavour to make her understand or answer.
Arthur passed the night in watching, distracted with remorse which almost drove him mad.
Carrie was sleeping just as he had placed her -- a heavy drunken sleep, interrupted by struggling sobs, by starts and cries. As the candle by degrees burned down into the socket, Arthur extinguished it and lit the lamp. Any thought of rest was impossible, though his limbs ached intolerably, and his whole body was oppressed with a deadly faintness. With the exception of a very slight lunch, he had eaten nothing since breakfast during the day. At length he was compelled to rise, and, going to the cupboard, cut a slice of bread from a loaf which he found there. This and a draught of water somewhat refreshed him, but only to become more sensible to the fearful pictures of his mind. His wife a drunkard, engaging in a low brawl before a public-house -- surely this was a degradation of which he could not have dreamt. What would this be the prelude to? Was it but the commencement of horrors whom he had visited for the purpose of relieving, horror such as he had witnessed in the homes of wretched creature which he had often thought it would drive him mad to suffer in his own home? He durst not turn his eyes to look at Carrie; the disgust and terror which the sight of her awakened were too painful.
He endeavoured to read, but in vain gazed upon the page, not a line could he understand. He went to the window threw it up, and looked out into the night. It still rained a little, but otherwise the night was calm; the only wind was a warm and gentle one from the south-west, doubtless betokening more rain. As he stood thus gazing into the darkness, he was startled to hear a deep-toned bell begin to strike the hour with the utmost distinctness. Not till it had struck three or four times could he remember that it must be Big Ben at Westminster, whose tones were borne so plainly to his ear by the wind. The hour was midnight. It seemed as though the deep-mouthed bell would never cease to toll, and every stroke bore with it echoes which sounded like moanings of woe. It brought hot tears to Arthur's eyes, and for many minutes he wept like a child, quite overcome by the anguish of his mind. He turned to look at Carrie, who had just uttered a groan, and, approaching her, he gazed long at her face, letting his tears drop upon it. Then he arranged the pillow under her head so as to render her more comfortable, and having kissed her forehead, he returned to the window.
In a garret on the opposite side of the street a dull light was burning, and it was now the only light visible in the houses around. Arthur began to find employment for his thoughts in speculating as to the cause of the light. Most likely some one was lying in the garret ill, perhaps dying; or perhaps it was only a husband or a wife sitting in all but hopeless expectation for the loved one to return, even though it were in a condition which it was agony to picture. With such watchers as these Arthur felt that he should henceforth have a keen sympathy. Then, as he thus pictured imaginary scenes, a far-off shriek, piercing even though so distant, seemed to cut through the night. Here was a fresh horror, a fresh exercise for the thoughts. Was it the mere yell of a drunken woman being dragged through the streets? Was it a scream to awaken the neighbourhood to the terrors of fire? Or was it midnight murder? He heard the policeman who had been tramping steadily along the street below suddenly pause and listen. But there was no second cry, the policeman continued to tramp on, and Arthur's thoughts wandered away to other themes.
One and two he heard sounded by the great bell, and after that his frame began to yield to exhaustion. Carrie still slept; she seemed rather quieter, too, moaning and struggling less. Taking one of the pillows from the bed, Arthur placed it on the floor, spread out by it a few articles of clothing, and, turning the lamp low, lay down to rest. But very few minutes had passed before he sank into a deep sleep.
When he woke it was pitch dark; apparently the lamp had burnt itself out. Striking a match he found it was half-past six. Already there were signs of waking life in the streets. Though his head ached so dreadfully that the light in his hand seemed to swell his brain to bursting, Arthur had no inclination to sleep again. His whole body was shivering with cold, his face and hands felt clammy with a strange perspiration. Having lit a new candle, he occupied himself in making a fire, and, as soon as the blaze began to shoot up cheerfully in the grate, he made some water warm and washed in it. Feeling revived, though still suffering intensely in his head, he proceeded to make tea. As he completed this, he perceived by motions upon the bed that Carrie was sleeping less soundly. She appeared to be in the agony of a fearful dream; her eyes were wide open, her hands convulsively clenched. Shaking her, and calling her name, Arthur at length succeeded in partly awaking her. She sat up on the bed and looked round the room with only half-conscious eyes.
"Carrie! Carrie!" said Arthur, sitting beside her, and holding a cup of tea in his hand, "wake, dearest! -- try and drink this."
She took the cup from his hands and drank the contents eagerly.
"More," she said, holding it out to him again.
He refilled it, and this she also drank off.
"Are you well, dear?" he asked. "Can you go to sleep again?"
"My head, my head!" she moaned, sinking once more upon the pillow. Then, a moment after she asked, "What is the time?"
"Nearly seven o'clock. Do you think I may leave you to go to my work?"
"Oh yes," she moaned; "leave me, leave me. Why do you ask?"
"I cannot leave you if you are not well."
"You didn't mind leaving me last night," she returned, sobbing; "why should you now?"
With a thousand self-reproaches, Arthur exerted himself to calm her; he caressed her, spoke to her with loving words, only speaking to her of his own fault, not a syllable of hers. That must in time be spoken of, but not yet; not now that she was suffering so terribly from its consequences. Neither did she refer to it in the few sentences she uttered. She was still heavy with sleep, and Arthur saw it would be better to let her have quiet rest. Promising that he would return at dinnertime, he watched her once more fall asleep, and then, as soon as it was time, set out as usual.
When he returned about mid day he found Carrie sitting over the fire, her face resting upon her hands, her long hair falling loosely about her shoulders. All his anger had now left him, and he felt for her nothing but the sincerest pity. When he entered she did not stir, but when he bent over her and laid his hand soothingly upon her head, she looked up at him for a moment. Her eyes were red and swollen, and her cheeks had lost all their natural colour. She had evidently been crying, but was doing so no longer. To his enquiries as to whether she felt better she replied in the affirmative, but with very few words. Evidently something was upon her mind, and Arthur naturally concluded that she was suffering from remorse. Thinking it best to leave her undisturbed, he swallowed a mouthful of lunch, and again approached her to say good-bye; he had a long distance to go, and not a minute too much time.
"I will be back early, dearest," he said, bending over her and pressing his cheek to hers. "Don't trouble to get any dinner ready. I will bring something in with me that will do. Shall I find something nice for Carrie, to surprise her with?"
At other times she had always welcomed such a suggestion with a childish delight. Now she only shook her head and said, "Don't trouble."
"Oh, we shall see," he returned; and he was on the point of going, when she suddenly moved to face him and asked --
"Where is that portrait?"
In the pain of the result all memory of the cause had escaped Arthur's mind; he started when he heard this sudden question, for he knew the torn drawing was still in his pocket. It smote through him, moreover, like a piercing blow, the sudden disclosure of the true cause of Carrie's depression. It was not sorrow for her fault which weighed upon her, but a brooding jealousy which nothing could dispel from her mind. In a second Arthur's resolution was taken, and he answered firmly --
"I destroyed it last night; I threw it away in the street."
Something like a smile rose to Carrie's lips, and she resumed her attitude over the fire. Without further adieu, Arthur left the house.
In the evening, before returning home, he made a hasty call at Noble's lodgings. Noble had just arrived from his work.
"I wish to ask a favour of you," said Arthur.
"Ask a hundred," returned Noble.
"No, only one. Will you take this little parcel of mine, and guard it for me as if it contained something more precious than gold -- guard it till I ask you to give it me again?"
"I will," replied his friend, with a slight look of surprise.
"But are you willing to do so without knowing what it contains? If I do not wish you to know it, Noble, you may be sure it is a secret which is far better kept by myself alone."
"I am willing to do so," replied Noble. "Let us say no more about it. Look; I will lock it in this little drawer, which I do not use for anything. You will find it there when you want it."
"How is your wife?" asked Noble, as Arthur was on the point of going.
"As usual, thanks," replied the other; and, waving his hand departed.
Arthur had been at first uncertain whether he should impart to Noble what had happened at home, but at the last moment he found it impossible to do so. The degradation was too great; far better that no one else should be cognisant of it And then if, as he devoutly hoped, it was a single case which would never find a repetition, there would be an injustice to Carrie in making it known to his friend. Certainly it would be unjust to relate Carrie's error without at the same time making the cause fully known, and this Arthur was not disposed to do. In the parcel he had entrusted to his friend was, of course, the torn portrait. But the perfect confidence he possessed in Noble's honour was a guarantee that the parcel would never be looked into. Otherwise, he could not have given it to Noble to keep; for the thought that the latter should even suspect the secret which the portrait contained was intolerable to Arthur. He felt that his high-minded friend could not but regard him with less respect if he knew this secret, and Noble's respect was a necessity of his life.
On his way home he fulfilled his promise of purchasing a delicacy for Carrie. As he ascended the stairs to their room, he wondered what effect his last sentence at dinner-time would have had upon Carrie. Without a doubt she would have ransacked his box once more, but she might suspect that he was carrying the picture in his pocket; he resolved to give her an opportunity of seeing that even this was not the case. Perhaps by this means he should restore peace to his home.
He was not surprised, on entering, to find the room once more in tolerable order, and Carrie neatly dressed, standing to receive him before a cheerful hearth. She was still pale, but otherwise all traces of her illness seemed to have passed away. He did not speak, but took from his pocket the newly-purchased delicacy and opened it upon the table. A smile lit up Carrie's face, and, stepping a foot or two towards him, she held her arms open. In a moment he met her embrace.
"You are sure it is thrown away?" she whispered, as he pressed her in his arms.
"Suppose it were in my box again?" he returned.
"I don't think it is," she replied, and Arthur knew that his supposition was confirmed.
"Suppose it were in one of my pockets?" he continued, willing to remove all suspicion from her mind. He asked himself, as he spoke the words, whether she would trust to his word alone, or whether that would be insufficient.
"Let me look," was Carrie's reply; and she instantly began to rummage his pockets.
Arthur sighed, but asked himself what right he had to demand that his mere word should suffice; had he not already deceived her?
"You won't tell me who it was?" asked Carrie, when she had satisfied herself that the odious picture was nowhere to be found.
"No one at all," repeated Arthur, laughing. "I copied it from an old picture, long since."
Carrie was fain to put up with this answer, though it was clear she did not believe it. She immediately set about preparing dinner, and the meal passed smoothly over. When it was finished Arthur made Carrie sit by him, and spoke gravely.
"Now I have satisfied you, Carrie," he said, "I think it is fair that you should satisfy me. How did you pass the time when I was away last night?"
"I don't remember anything about it," replied she, laughing and shaking her head.
"But you mustn't laugh, dear," urged Arthur, "I am very serious. You have pained me more than I ever was pained in my life. How was it that I found you with that woman, Mrs. Pole?"
"Oh, I forget all about it," returned Carrie. "Talk about something else."
"No, I wish to speak of this. Please to attend, Carrie. Did that woman come to you, or did you go to her?"
"Why, if you go away in a bad temper and leave me," returned Carrie, rather sharply, "I suppose I must get who I can to talk to. Any one's better than no one."
"There you are wrong," said Arthur, firmly. "Far better to have no one at all to associate with than choose such a woman as that. I had no idea of her character when I took a room for you in her house, or I certainly should have had nothing to do with her. Then you went to her, Carrie?"
"What if I did?"
"Why, this. That I beg you will never do such a thing again as long as you live, on any pretence; and if she comes here you must refuse to see her. Do you understand, Carrie?"
"I don't care much for Mrs. Pole," replied Carrie, a little awed by Arthur's firmness; "but who else have I to talk to?"
"I know quite well that it is disagreeable to live so entirely alone as you do," pursued Arthur; "I would give anything to be able to find you suitable friends. But whether you find such or not, it is clear that you must make no friend of Mrs. Pole. Will you promise me, Carrie, never to speak to her again upon any pretence?"
"Well," returned Carrie, averting her face, "there's Ann Pole; she isn't so bad. She doesn't drink at all."
"That's the daughter?"
"Yes; she's a very nice girl, I'm sure."
"I know nothing of her," replied Arthur, "and do not wish to. But if you associate with her, it is impossible to avoid coming in contact with her mother. So I must ask you to have nothing to do with anyone in that house."
"Who am I to talk to then?" asked the girl.
"Why don't you make a friend of Mrs. Oaks? She is a very agreeable woman, and her conversation would do you good. You seem to have some unaccountable dislike for her -- how is it?"
"Oh, how can I talk to Mrs. Oaks? She's so stiff, and never has anything to say to me."
"I have never found her so," replied Arthur. "She is kind and good-hearted in the extreme, and a far better educated woman than I have ever known in her position. I'm sure it is a foolish prejudice you have against her."
"I don't like her," exclaimed Carrie, "and so it's no use talking."
Arthur rose from his chair and paced the room, fearful lest he should be betrayed into angry expressions.
"Whether you like her or not, Carrie," he said, after a few minutes' silence, "she is the only woman you know who is at all fit for you to associate with. She has several married daughters, who, I dare say, are very respectable women; and you might get to know them. But, in any case, I must insist upon your having nothing to do with Mrs. Pole. If your own good taste does not keep you from her, you must please to remember that you are my wife, and endeavour to do as I wish. Do you think I have no ambition? Do you think I shall all my life be as poor as I am now, and with as few friends? Some day I hope to be able to introduce you to very different people from those you have yet known, to people in a far higher position in life. And how will you be prepared to associate with such people if you train your tastes to sympathise with none but Mrs. Pole and her like? This is why I so earnestly wish you to occupy your spare time in attending to your education, to do your utmost to become better, to know more, to understand more. Have you no ambition for yourself? Would you be willing to continue absolutely ignorant to the end of your life?"
Carrie had reassumed her position over the fire, and the dull smile upon her face indicated clearly that she understood but little of what Arthur was saying, and sympathised with his eloquence not at all.
"Look at me, Carrie," he continued, approaching her and laying his hand upon her head. "My youngest years were far more uncared for than yours. I was a wretched, ragged, half-starved child, playing in the gutter. When I was quite a little boy I had to begin to earn my living, and earn it by downright hard work. But I soon felt that I could not bear always to be such an ignorant creature as I was growing up; with desperate efforts I succeeded in going to an evening school once or twice a week, and I occupied every spare moment in learning to read and write. Then by chance I got a place as shop-boy under a most excellent master, a man whom I have to thank for nearly all the knowledge I possess, without whom I might still have been a mere ignorant, rude-speaking workman. Now, Carrie, what he did for me, it is my earnest wish to do for you. I am not as clever as he was, I do not know anything like as much, but still I am able to teach you much, very much that you do not know, and that you will be better for. To train your mind in this way, to give you a hand and help you up to a higher kind of life, and to devote my whole existence to making you better in every way -- that has been my ambition since I knew you, Carne! Will you do your part in the work? Will you not make just the few efforts I require of you? Will you promise to do so in future, dearest? I am sure you will."
There was silence for several minutes, and when Carrie replied it was in a manner which showed that the appeal had been altogether lost on her.
"It's all very well to ask me to do more," she said. "If you only knew how much house-work I have to do every day whilst you are away, you wouldn't ask me to find time for a lot of other things."
"But half an hour, Carrie. Surely you can find half an hour in a day?"
"Well, well, I'll think about it," replied the girl. "Don't talk no more about it now. You make my head ache with talking so much. I don't feel very well as it is."
Arthur sighed deeply. He saw that further conversation would only lead to another scene, and that he dreaded too much voluntarily to excite. So he took a volume from among Mr. Tollady's old books, and endeavoured to read.
When he had lived together with Mark Challenger in this room, he had been accustomed to spend several hours in serious study every day; but since his marriage he had scarcely opened a book. This was but one of many circumstances tending towards his unhappiness. Another was the constant longing which he experienced to take up a pencil and see whether he had lost his old skill in drawing. Though he had succeeded in lulling the voice of this internal monitor by force of numerous occupations, he could never completely silence it.
Only by years of neglect and oppression is it possible utterly to stifle those inborn impulses which we personify as genius, if, indeed, it be possible at all to do so, and Arthur, though he had accustomed himself to regard his artistic yearnings as something which it was his duty to suppress, had never been able completely to quell them. They came upon him at times with dreadful force, operating like an inward pain, a gnawing at his very vitals which would not let him rest.
The incident of Helen's picture had awakened them to their utmost energy, and to-night, as he sat endeavouring to read, he looked upon his daily life as a dreary waste, a perpetual, arid desert, to which he was condemned, though his eyes never lost sight of a delicious country, fair as the land of Beulah, so near to him that it seemed he could attain it by a stride.
Now, too, he began to think more frequently of the approaching day when he should be able to claim Mr. Norman's legacy. Hitherto this thought had been crushed down with the others, as something which was in any case of little consequence to him. For he had resolved that the possession of comparative wealth should make no difference in his daily life.
In the society which he had frequented of late, that of men such as William Noble -- strong, earnest minds so terribly convinced of the curse of wealth that they advocated a system of society in which no man should live upon money which was not the exact representation of his own labour -- among men such as these Arthur had grown to the determination never to abandon his daily toil, however easy it might be for him to live independently of it. Daily labour was one of the fundamental principles of the gospel he had adopted, and had himself earnestly sought to spread, at the club and elsewhere.
Holding such views, he had long since resolved that, when he became possessed of his money, every farthing of it should be employed in the cause of the poor, in direct charity, and in aid of movements which he approved. No single coin of it should go towards his own support; rather than that he would toil unceasingly for the sufficiencies of life.
But since his marriage Arthur's feelings had undergone a considerable change. He thought of Carrie, and he would have been less than human could he have long resisted the temptation to raise above a life of sordid cares the woman whom he loved, or at all events whom he had bound to himself as his wife, the possible mother of his children.
And then came the perpetual whisper within him, bidding him contemplate a life spent in devotion to art. What was to prevent his entering upon such a life when the time came? Nothing -- except principle, except that the voice which whispered that it would be shame to desert the cause he had embraced, to afford to his companions one more example of wealth corrupting a generous nature.
But the time had not come for reasoning on these matters. As yet there was only a question of vague impulses, which, on account of their very sweetness, must surely be wrong and on no account to be followed. For all that they sufficed to render Arthur's life even more unhappy, by degrees to darken the brightness of his eyes, and to impart an aspect of enduring trouble to his countenance.
For some days Carrie was in unvariable good humour, and Arthur was too glad of the change to ever touch upon one of the subjects likely to disturb the peace of his home. He said to himself that Carrie's education was not a matter to be completed in a day; he must commence by degrees, humouring her idleness at first, and not insisting upon a sudden correction of all her faults. So he again occupied himself chiefly with her pronunciation, and Carrie was good enough to receive his corrections with equanimity. Hope once more dawned upon Arthur.
It was nearly a week after the dreadful night that Arthur, on returning home, once more noticed the strong odour of peppermint in the room. He said nothing about it; but, in spite of himself, strange thoughts were awakened by it in his mind. So engrossing were these thoughts that they kept him very silent during the evening. Carrie, on the other hand, was quite unusually talkative.
He observed her closely, and thought he perceived an unnatural glow in her eyes which he had at times noticed there before, and that also on occasions when she had been eating peppermint. He was distressed by an uneasy fear, a dread of an uncertain kind, which made him turn sick at heart.
About nine o'clock Carrie went out to buy something for supper. Another time Arthur would not have let her go alone. To-night he had a special purpose in doing so.
As soon as she was gone, he went to the cupboard in which she kept all her crockery and other articles of household use, and rapidly examined its contents. After some little search he discovered an empty corked bottle, of the use of which he had no idea. Taking out the cork, he smelt it, and sickened as though the odour had been deadly poison, for he clearly recognised that the bottle had contained spirits.
The dreadful suspicions he had entertained with regard to the peppermint were fully confirmed. For a moment he hesitated as to how he should act. It was clear that the shortest course was the best. He had to do with a disease which required the most decisive of measures, and any weakness on his part would be culpable.
Placing the bottle in the middle of the table, he sat down and awaited Carrie's return with an anxiety so intense that it rendered him physically feeble.
She entered at length, with a heightened colour, laughing gaily, and immediately went to the paper of peppermints on the mantel-piece and put one in her mouth. She then began to lay the cloth for supper, and, in doing so, had of course to move the bottle. She started at the sight of it, and paused for a moment, as if endeavouring to remember whether she could have left it there by mistake or not. She turned her eyes cautiously in Arthur's direction, and saw at once that he was watching her closely.
"No," said the latter, divining her thoughts, "it was not there when you went out, Carrie. I found it myself in your absence and put it there."
She muttered something and was putting the bottle into the cupboard again, when Arthur stopped her.
"What do you use that bottle for, Carrie?" he asked.
"Oh, for all sorts of things," she replied, readily, though her face had gone pale. "I used it to fetch some brandy in to-day. I felt very faint, and was obliged to have it."
"In that case," said Arthur, persistently gazing into her face, "why didn't you tell me of it?"
"Oh, it was nothing," said Carrie, trying to turn away. "It wasn't worth bothering you about."
But Arthur held her hand, and would not let her go.
"Was that all, Carrie?" he asked. "Why then, do you trouble to eat peppermints, that I mayn't smell the spirits when you kiss me?"
She reddened again for a moment, then laughed, still struggling to free herself.
"What an idea! I'm sure I don't do it for any such reason! I eat peppermints because I like them, that's all. If you grudge me them you've only to say so. They don't cost so much as all that."
"No, you are getting angry without a cause, Carrie," returned Arthur, "and that is a bad sign. Tell me this: Have you ever had spirits before to-day because you felt faint?"
"Never?" he repeated, with the utmost gravity.
"And what if I had?" cried Carrie, suddenly breaking away from him, and speaking angrily. "I suppose you'd rather come home and find me dead than allow me to spend a little money when I want it."
"You have no right to speak so to me, Carrie," returned Arthur, severely. "When have I shown disregard of your health, or grudged you anything I could afford that would give you pleasure? You are angry because I have found that bottle. I tell you plainly, it is not true that you got the brandy because you felt faint! If that had been the reason you would have told me of it. And why should you feel so faint as to require such a restorative? You are quite well, you are not overburdened with hard work, you have nothing to make you faint. A cup of tea would have refreshed you much better, if you had been in need of more refreshment. You have not told me the truth."
"Very well," retorted the girl, with terrible passion in her eyes, "tell me I have been a liar at once!"
Arthur turned away with a suppressed expression of disgust. There was no doubt that Carrie had been drinking again. Her features denoted it clearly, and the fierce passion with which she spoke could only have been excited by drink.
Taking both her arms firmly in his hands, Arthur forced her to stand facing him before he spoke again.
"Can you understand what I am going to say to you?" he asked, in a low, firm voice. "Have you still enough of your senses left to listen to me and heed what I say?"
She persisted in turning away her head, and made no reply. In spite of her struggles to free herself, he held her with unshaken firmness.
"It is evident," he went on, "that I allow you too much money. You have more than what you need for our every day expenses, and instead of saving, you spend the superfluous money in poison which will soon render you worse than brutal. Mark what I say, Carrie, for I am determined to save you, whether you will or not; at all events, I am determined to do my utmost before it is too late. From this day I shall give you much less money to spend, and of that money you will have to keep a strict account. Every penny you pay away you will set down in the book I have given you. You have shown me that it is impossible to have absolute confidence in you; I trust you will not force me to believe that you are not to be confided in at all. Do you understand me?"
She only replied by a wild effort to free herself, and, succeeding in her object, darted to the other end of the room. There she stood, looking at him with her unnaturally bright eyes, but saying nothing.
"Have you no regard for me left, Carrie?" Arthur pursued. "Must I look upon you as an enemy in my home, instead of a wife who returns my love? Are you determined to make me wretched, to leave me no moment's peace, day or night? What peace can I have if I know that, in my absence, you are taking the surest means, day by day, to degrade yourself and render yourself altogether unworthy of my affection. In Heaven's name, what has driven you to this fearful vice? Is your home miserable? Do you want for anything? Am I habitually unkind to you? Carrie, Carrie!" he cried, in a voice of agony, again drawing near to her, "open your eyes, and see what a hideous path you are entering on! Surely it is ignorance which allows you to act in this way, you cannot know what fearful dangers you are encountering. Promise me that you will never drink spirits from this day. Promise me that, Carrie -- will you?"
"There's no call for me to make any such promise, as I see," replied the girl. "I don't drink them only when it's necessary. I don't know what right you have to call me all those names."
"As long as you are well and strong, it is never necessary, returned Arthur. "You don't understand me, Carrie. You seem to think I am doing something for my own selfish interest in forbidding you to drink; you cannot see that I have your own happiness, and nothing but your own happiness, at heart. How shall I make you understand what I mean? Will you come for a walk with me?"
Carrie looked up in surprise at the apparent inconsequence of the request, but on Arthur continuing to urge that she should go out with him, curiosity persuaded her to consent It was Saturday night, and already the hour was late. Leading her through the crowded streets of the neighbourhood, Arthur took his way towards the meanest quarters he knew of, into courts and alleys swarming with the riotous life of the last night in the week. He made her pause near the beggars on the edge of the pavement, pointing to their foul rags, their hideously-distorted features, their bodies tortured with nameless diseases. He made her stand by the entrance to pawnshops, and watch the men, women and children who entered and came out, made her watch the mother pawning her infant's very rags, after already robbing herself of more than decency could dispense with, the dissipated boys running with frightened faces to turn stolen articles into money, the tottering old men and women pawning the few remains of miserable clothing which they should have kept to make shrouds. He led her to the doors of the most crowded gin-palaces, showed her hundreds of women in appearance too ghastly for description, made her listen to language which should have rotted the tongues which uttered it, stood by with her whilst human creatures, mad with liquor, tore each other with their claws like wild beasts. No sight, no sound, no most terrible experience which Saturday night could afford did he spare her, and at every fresh horror he made her observe that drink was, ten to one, at the bottom of it. And at length, when the church clocks were striking one, he led her back home, wearied and sobbing, and before she sought rest, he made her solemnly promise that she would drink nothing that could harm her from that day. She promised, with tears; after which, Arthur kissed her, and she fell asleep like a child.
Arthur pondered much during the days which followed as to whether it would be wise to acquaint Carrie with the wealth that would become his early in the following year, or not. At times he was strongly tempted to do so, urged by the hope that this expectation might awaken in her a stronger feeling of self-respect than his own exhortations and instructions had hitherto availed to excite. But, on the other hand, if he meant to persevere in his severely unselfish plans with regard to the disposal of the money, it would be scarcely prudent to make Carrie a party to them, for Arthur was beginning to recognise only too clearly that she had but little of that high-mindedness which would be required to achieve such renunciation. She would not be able to comprehend his views; who could say that she would not attribute to him in her own mind the meanest motives instead of the highest? But then came the question -- Did he really mean to persist in his purpose? Would it be wise? Would it be just to himself and to Carrie? As yet he was not prepared with an answer for these questions. There were yet many months before an absolute decision would be required of him. For the present he would let the matter rest. Possibly in the end he might find it prudent to consult William Noble, who himself knew nothing of his friend's fortune, and it was very difficult to foresee in which direction Noble's advice might tend.
If he was reticent with regard to the future, Arthur was almost as silent about the past, as far, at least, as it concerned Carrie. Once or twice he did venture to ask her a question about her life during the period in which he had lost sight of her, but she showed such reluctance to reply, that he ceased to mention the subject. Indeed, there was very little to learn. Carrie's experience had been that of the numberless girls in a similar destitute condition whom London nightly pillows in her hard corners, the only peculiarity being that she had found a way out of her misery without having recourse either to the workhouse or the river. Of one thing, however, Arthur felt certain, and it was that this period of wretched vagabondage had done Carrie considerable moral harm. True, he had scarcely spoken to her before the night on which he saved her from death in the streets, but he felt sure that she had previously been much gentler, and, to speak plainly, more innocent. Above all, he believed that this fatal habit of drinking had had its source in that prolonged nightmare of homeless agony. Doubtless his own unsuspecting heedlessness had contributed to its development, for he now saw clearly that the woman called Mrs. Pole had exercised a strong influence for evil over Carrie's mind, an influence that endured even now that he thought he had removed his wife from her reach. One experience which he had now acquired, tortured him ceaselessly; it was that Carrie was by no means to be trusted. She seemed to have no innate respect for truth, and had acquired a facility in deception which made it all but impossible to arrive at the truth by questioning her. The knowledge of this terrible flaw in her character gave Arthur many sleepless nights. How could he tell what ruinous schemes were ripening in the brain of the girl who slept so peacefully by his side? And this evil only grew by time, for his suspicions never ceased to be fed with only too substantial evidence. Distrust haunted him like a phantom. It constantly stood between himself and Carrie, chilling her kiss, and little by little estranging her from his embrace. At times he asked himself, with a shudder, whether he could any longer pretend that he loved her.
For, in spite of her solemn promise, she continued stealthily to gratify her passion for drink, and Arthur knew it but too well. Often he detected it in her breath, and openly charged her with her broken faith, but she denied the charge so boldly, with such shameless persistence, that he stood aghast before her, and was unable to say another word. He had so strongly insisted upon her keeping accounts, that she was obliged to make a show of it; but Arthur, by inspecting her book, saw clearly that the expenses were constantly falsified. Before long he resorted to the plan of. giving her money every day, barely sufficient for the expenses he knew to be legitimate; but, nevertheless, he continued to find her upon his return either excited to an unnatural gaiety, or plunged in dangerous moroseness, and always with the gleaming eyes which were the infallible index of her wrong-doing. He could not understand how she managed to procure liquor; but before long he began to notice the disappearance of sundry articles from the room, and he had no more wonder on the subject.
They had soon been married six months. The pretence of Carrie's education had long since gone to add another stone to the paving of Hell; no word was ever heard of reading or writing now, and Arthur had even ceased to correct her errors in speaking. All day long he worked with an overburdened heart, and a brow which began to show distinct signs of hopeless trouble. His foot began to lose its lightness, he began to stoop as he walked, never looking about him with the old joyous, hopeful glance, but with eyes fixed upon the ground, ever thinking, thinking. He acquired the habit of talking aloud to himself, and occasionally gesticulated as he walked. He had grown to dread his wife's face. Affectionate expostulation was altogether thrown away upon her, or only met with a return of sickening hypocrisy; and to angry utterances she only replied with passionate retorts. Arthur fancied that he could observe her features growing coarser, and he felt convinced that her voice had no longer the clearness of tone which had once marked it. Yet of none of these signs did she herself appear conscious. Not the most impassioned pleading on Arthur's part had force to awaken her to the unavoidable consequences of her course of life.
One morning, early in July, as Arthur was leaving the house to go to his work, he was stopped by his landlady, Mrs. Oaks, who requested him to step into her parlour. The good woman had a troubled expression on her face, and was evidently preparing to speak on a subject she found disagreeable.
"I'm afraid, sir," she began, "that I shall be obliged to ask you to find other lodgings."
"For whatever reason, Mrs. Oaks?" asked Arthur, in the utmost surprise.
"Well, to tell you the truth, Mr. Golding, the character of my house is being damaged. These girls that come so often to see your wife have such a very -- unrespectable appearance, I might say, that the other lodgers don't at all like it. One has given me notice already, an old lady on the first floor who has been with me a year. And then the neighbours are beginning to talk about it, too. I shall have my house empty if it goes on."
Arthur turned deadly pale as he listened. He looked round to see if the door was closed behind him, and then sat down, as if overcome with sudden weakness.
"Aren't you well, sir?" asked Mrs. Oaks, disturbed at the sight of his countenance.
He waved his hands to signify that it was nothing.
"I know nothing of these visitors you speak of," he said. "When do they come? Who are they?"
"They come at all hours of the day, sir; and as for what they are, I don't exactly know, of course, but I am afraid they're no good. But didn't you know they came for Mrs. Golding?"
Arthur shook his head.
"Well," took up the old lady, "and I asked her only the other day if you knew about it, and she said that you knew well enough, and that there was no call to complain of anything, as they were respectable friends of hers."
"I assure you, Mrs. Oaks," said Arthur, solemnly, "I know nothing of them. How many come?"
"Oh, perhaps not more than two or three; but they are here so often, and they dress in such a flashy way, that nobody can help noticing them. They must stop coming here, that's very certain."
"So they shall, Mrs. Oaks," returned Arthur, rising. "I am very much obliged to you for telling me of this. I hope that is your only objection to me remaining your lodger?"
"Oh, I've nothing else in the world to complain of," said the old lady. "I'm sure I should be very sorry to lose you."
Arthur went upstairs again forthwith. It would result in his missing half a day's work -- perhaps losing his place -- but that he could not help. For him to be absent all day with this weight upon his mind would be intolerable.
"Carrie," he began sternly, as soon as he re-entered the room, "who are these girls that visit you so often in my absence?"
"I don't know of any girls," she replied, shaking her head.
"You do!" replied Arthur, with sudden violence, every fibre in him thrilling at the bare-faced lie. "You know very well that you are constantly visited by girls during the day. Tell me who they are at once!"
"Oh," she replied with an affectation of indifference, "I suppose you mean Lily Marston, as come to see me once last week."
"And who is she?"
"One of the girls I used to work with. What harm if she did come? I suppose I'm not to be caged up like a wild beast, am I, and not allowed to see any one?"
"Do you mean to tell me that this girl is the only visitor you have ever had?"
"The only one as I remember. Who told you about her?"
"Never mind who told me. I know perfectly well that you have had frequent visitors during the present week. It is useless to try to deceive me."
"I know who told you," returned Carrie, her eyes flashing. "It's that spiteful old cat of a landlady! She's got a spite against me, she has, because she knows I don't like her. She threatened to tell you."
"And she has done so. And she has also told me that the nuisance has become so great we shall be obliged to leave if it continues. Once more, I ask you: Who are these girls who visit you?"
"Is it likely," returned Carrie, "as I can live day after day without seeing no one? And I'm not going to do it, that's plain. If I have one or two friends come to see me, they come into my own room and don't disturb anybody, and the landlady's a spiteful old cat to say as it isn't so!"
"Then you own that you have visitors, and without my knowledge? Well, it must cease at once. You understand me? I forbid you to see any one at this house without my consent."
He paused to see the effect of his words. Carrie turned away, and said nothing.
"Do you mean to obey me?" he asked.
She said nothing, but appeared engaged in covering over something which lay on the dressing-table, something in front of which she had been standing since he entered the room. Arthur stepped up quickly to her, and, seizing her hands, disclosed a large jet necklace, a gold brooch, and a silver bracelet. For some minutes he was unable to speak with surprise.
"How have you obtained all these?" he asked at length, his voice quavering from the conflict of emotions.
"They're mine!" cried Carrie, passionately. "Leave them alone!"
"Yours!" he exclaimed. "How have they come into your possession?"
"They've always been mine."
"Always yours! But you have not had them here in this room."
"I know I haven't. They've been at my aunt's all the time. I went and fetched them yesterday."
He looked into her face for some moments, desperately endeavouring to determine whether she spoke the truth. Possibly she did, but, as Arthur too well knew, it was quite as possible that she did not. Yet how else could she have obtained these ornaments? He dared not ask himself the question, but forced himself obstinately to believe that she had told him the truth.
"What are you going to do with them?" he asked, after standing with his eyes fixed upon the objects for several minutes, almost stunned by the weight of trouble that was pressing upon him.
"What should I?" she asked, putting them away into a drawer. "Wear them, of course."
He stood still, gazing at the place where the things had lain, unable to determine upon a course of action. Suddenly he spoke.
"You didn't answer my question about the visitors," he said. "Do you mean to obey me, or must I look for other lodgings?"
"Oh, I'm sure I don't want to drive you away," retorted Carrie. "If you're tired of having me with you, I can look for a room for myself. That's very easily done."
It was not the first time that Carrie had expressed herself ready to leave him, and to hear her speak thus was always intensely aggravating to Arthur. Regarding his marriage as a solemn bond which nothing but death could break, it was torture to him to hear it spoken of so lightly, as if it were capable of dissolution at will. It may be that in this feeling there was something of the indignation with which an upright mind regards a tempter. So when she spoke, the taunting coldness of her words irritated him once more into stern anger.
"What do you mean, when you speak so to me?" he exclaimed. "Do you understand the words you use? Do you mean that you hate me, that you are weary of owning me as your husband? Would it please you if I took you at your word and bade you go and earn your own living?"
"I could force you to support me," replied Carrie, with a short laugh.
The utter heartlessness of these words checked his further speech. What good was it to exact a promise from her that she would obey him? Neither was her word to be trusted, nor had she the slightest trace of affection for him left. With a glance of burning scorn he walked out of the room. On reaching the ground floor he knocked at Mrs. Oaks' parlour, and was admitted.
"I am sorry to say that in any case we shall be obliged to leave, Mrs. Oaks," he said. "I suppose you will not require more than a week's notice?"
The old lady replied in the negative, surveying Arthur's pallid features with a look of pity. Possibly she divined the trouble from which he suffered. He did not leave her time to make any further remark, but walked at once from the house.
The rest of the morning he spent in wandering aimlessly about the streets, his brain throbbing feverishly, his body oppressed with an intolerable lassitude. He had taken his resolution. At the end of the week he would move to an entirely different part of London, where Carrie would be out of the reach of these companions who were leading her to her ruin. Once in a new abode, he would again attempt the work of reformation. But even as he resolved thus in his mind, he was struggling with the heart-sickness of perpetual disappointment. He could not bear to keep his sorrows any longer to himself. As yet he had not said a word of them to his friend Noble, but now, at length, he felt compelled to make him his confidant, and seek counsel in his dire straits.
During the afternoon he worked as usual. His appearance readily lent itself as a proof of his statement that he had been kept away in the morning by sudden illness. When the day came to an end he gladly left the toil which was ever becoming more odious to him, and set out in the direction of Noble's lodgings.
These were near the Strand. In crossing that thoroughfare he had to run before a hansom which was coming along at an unusual speed, and, even in the moment of its passing him, he distinctly saw Carrie seated in it by the side of a tall, finely-dressed young man. Was it possible he had made a mistake? As soon as the thought had flashed through his mind he started and ran at his utmost speed in pursuit of the vehicle. He had it distinctly before him amid the great crowd of traffic, and he gained upon it visibly. Suddenly it drew up to the pavement and stopped. The next moment he was standing by it -- only to see a grave old gentleman step out with a carpet bag in his hand. In his agitation he had evidently pursued the wrong hansom.
No thought now Of visiting Noble. Arthur was mad, and the very thought of his friend's calm conversation was insufferable to him. Homewards -- homewards! that was the sole idea which filled his brain. It was just possible that he had deceived himself in the hasty glance which the speeding vehicle had allowed him; if so he should find Carrie seated at home as usual. But if he found her absent, then -- there would be time enough to decide how to act. As he ran along the swarming streets between the Strand and his home he did his best to persuade himself that his eyes had played him false, but all the time he was convinced that they had not. He knew Carrie's face. and form too well; he felt sure that he had even recognised the gold brooch and the bracelet.
He reached Huntley Street and rushed panting upstairs to his room. He flung the door open. The room was empty.
He sat down to think. Was the fact of Carrie's absence a proof of his having seen her in the hansom? By no means, for she had of late frequently been absent when he returned in the evening, employed he knew but too well how. But were the ornaments still here? He stepped to the chest of drawers. All the drawers were open, and in none were the ornaments to be found. There was no, other place in the room where she could have put them away. He went to the cupboard in which she was in the habit of hanging her dresses. It was empty, with the exception of one cast-off garment and the hat she generally wore. Her best hat was gone. He turned to examine other parts of the room, and, in doing so, his eye fell upon half a sheet of note-paper which lay on the table amidst the remnants of the morning's breakfast. He took it up with a trembling hand, and read, written in Carrie's well-known scrawl and with all her favourite errors of spelling, this: --
"Don't expect me back. I've gone for good. I shan't trouble you any more, though I am your wife."
When he took up the paper it had shaken in his fingers like a leaf in the wind, but, having read it, he put it down with perfect steadiness. The certainty of what he feared seemed to have cured him of his feverish anxiety. For a moment he felt cold in every part of his body, but, after that, he was calm. He began to pace the room, repeating to himself in a low voice the trenchant sentences of the note: "Don't expect me back." "I've gone for good." Several times he stopped in his slow walk and looked out of the window. He faced the west, and could see the sky over the houses opposite still glowing with the rich colours of sunset. From one chimney ascended a thin stream of smoke, and very beautiful it looked as its transparency was permeated with a tinge of the hues behind it. Arthur's thoughts wandered off to a translation of the Odyssey which he had once read aloud to Mr. Tollady, and he could not help connecting the vari-coloured smoke before him with his imagination of the smoke rising from a Greek altar in some sea-girdled isle made beautiful under an Ionian sunset. There was calmness in this hour. The streets seemed unusually quiet, and an organ being played in the distance sounded like delicious music. He found himself wandering off into day-dreams, and had the greatest difficulty in forcing his thoughts back to the present hour. To do so, he still kept repeating the note half aloud. What was this feeling so strongly resembling pleasure which crept further into his heart at each repetition? How was it that he unconsciously drew himself more upright, as if some great burden had suddenly 'been taken from his shoulders?
So Carrie was gone. Well, nothing more natural than that she should go. Was it not rather wonderful that she had stopped so long? He had not been mistaken; it was really Carrie whom he had seen in the hansom. And who could the elegant-looking young man be who was with her? How had she made his acquaintance? Might it not even be the "A.W." upon whose identity he had so often reflected?
He found himself thinking of Carrie's future lot as if she had been someone with whom he was slightly acquainted, and no more. Would her new friend trouble himself about her grammatical faults, her errors of pronunciation? Most probably not. How foolish he himself had been to trouble, either. Of what consequence was an h omitted or foisted in where it had no business, what mattered a few violations of the rules of syntax in this most irregular of worlds? Certainly there was passing annoyance caused by the neglect of such little conventions; but then there were other girls quite as beautiful as Carrie who spoke quite grammatically and had no trouble with their h's. Would it not be possible to find such?
The scene of unwonted freedom quite perplexed Arthur. Carrie was gone, and, as she herself said, "for good." This would necessitate some little change in daily habits, probably. Well, that could be thought of to-morrow; how was the present evening to be spent? Should he go out and entertain himself with the comedies and tragedies of the streets. Why not? It no longer mattered if he returned home a little late; there was no one to blame him. Or should he sit at home and read -- aye, read in the delicious stillness of this July evening? It was long since he had read anything; there had been no leisure for that of late. Yes, certainly he would stay at home and read. It was nearly nine o'clock, and dusk was beginning to deepen into gloom, so that he must have a light to read by. Accordingly he drew a table close up to the open window, through which was blowing a warm, delicious breeze, then he lit the lamp and placed it upon the table. Now what should, he read? There was but one book in which at that moment his soul delighted. He would read Vasari. Why should one deny oneself any procurable pleasure in this most uncertain of worlds?
He sat down by the table, just where the soft night air could fan his cheeks and awaken his so long-sleeping fancy, and, leaning one volume of his author against the rest, began to read. Oh, joy! It was like a draught of cool spring-water to one panting in the desert; like a fresh breeze upon the sea-cliffs to one whose energies have wasted in the hateful gloom of a manufacturing town; like the first ray of fertilising sunshine to one who long yearned in the wilderness of winter for the sweet, flowery days of spring; like the first kiss of returning health to one who has travelled even within sight of the very valley of the shadow of death. Ten, eleven, twelve boomed upon the south-west wind from the great bell at Westminster, but this evening Arthur did not hear; one and two sounded with greater distinctness through the silence of midnight, but still he was feeding his soul upon stories of the world-artists, those grand workers of old to whose unpolluted sight was revealed Heaven and all its glories. And so Arthur read on, till at length sleep overcame him, and his head sank upon the book.
He woke out of a troubled dream. He had been enacting over again the horrible events of that night on which he first became aware of Carrie's fatal passion for drink. He was on the point of rebuking Carrie in bitter anger when he suddenly woke.
It was morning, and the sun had just risen. Rising as quickly as his stiffened limbs would permit him, he endeavoured to recall the events of last night. There was moisture in his eyes, and he still trembled from the overwhelming passion which had disturbed him in his dream. The first object his eyes fell upon was the half-sheet of note-paper containing Carrie's farewell. He took it up, read it, looked hurriedly round the room, and immediately burst into tears. He wept passionately, the great sobs bursting from him as though they would have burst his heart. Till this moment he had not realised the fact that Carrie was gone, and now he thought her absence would kill him. He wrung his hands together, giving utterance to his agony the while in terrible cries and moans. He uttered wild prayers, he knew not for what or to whom; and then he ceased his exclamations to whisper in scarcely audible tones every endearing epithet he could imagine, coupling all with Carrie's name. He reproached himself in the bitterest terms for every stern word he had ever addressed to her, he blamed himself, himself only, for this terrible misfortune. Why had he not been patient? Nay, why had he not exercised ordinary kindness to his wife? It was his cruelty, his base heartlessness that had driven her away, and driven her -- Oh, God! -- to what?
Exhausted with his anguish he fell back upon the bed, and lay there with the hot tears streaming down his cheeks. Never till this moment did he know how he had loved Carrie. He would have given years of his life to see her once more enter the door, to have thrown himself upon the ground at her feet and begged her to forgive him. What were all her faults, seen through this haze of bitter, maddening regret and remorse? They were not faults, mere mistakes, venal and needing only the gentleness of a loving voice, the tender pressure of a loving hand, to banish them for ever. These means he persuaded himself he had never tried; no, he had endeavoured to exert a brutal authority, nothing else, and -- fool that he was! -- had been rightly punished. Oh, how differently would he act if only Carrie once more returned to him!
But, no; that he must not expect. She had found someone who would love her better than he had ever done, whose affection she could return with less fear of being slighted. And hereupon the fire of a consuming jealousy broke out fiercely within him, and drove him mad with torture. Forgetful of what he had just thought, he raved against Carrie's ingratitude, her base forgetfulness of all he had done for her, of all he fain would have done if she had permitted him. But she would regret him, she would reproach herself bitterly for having thus deserted him, and that before long. This well-dressed fop whom she had preferred to him would amuse himself with her as long as the fancy lasted, and then would fling her aside without pity. And then perhaps she would return. Oh, with what an overflowing heart would he welcome her again! But, no, she had said she would not return, and there was little hope that she would not keep her word. And then he pictured to himself her future career; how her passions, now set free from every restraint, would scourge her on from degradation to degradation, till she met her end in some abyss of unspeakable horror. If it was fated to be so, might the end come soon!
Arthur did not leave the room during the whole day. What was daily work that he should heed it under the weight of an affliction such as this? And, thinking of his work, he suddenly rose and went to the box in which he kept his few valuables, the same box in which Carrie had discovered Helen Norman's picture. Unlocking this, he took out a cash-box, which, on examination, he found to be untouched. He was glad that Carrie had not taken any of his money, for it showed some lingering self-respect, perhaps some regard for him still holding a place in her heart. After this he ate a few mouthfuls to still the feeling of faintness from which he had begun to suffer; then, unable to occupy himself in any way, once more lay upon the bed. At intervals he continued to weep, but for the most part he' lay with dry, red eyes, looking fixedly up at the ceiling, only the constant clenching of his hands giving outward evidence of the anguish within.
It must have been nearly seven o'clock in the evening when he was startled by a knock at the door. He had risen from the bed some time since, and, after eating a little dry bread and drinking a glass of water, was bathing his face, in the endeavour to remove the startling signs of his suffering. Hastily arranging his dress, he went to the door and opened it. Mark Challenger stood outside.
"Are you alone?" asked Mark, then added a moment after, "what on earth is the matter, Arthur? What have you been doing?"
"Nothing at, all," replied Arthur. "I have had a little headache, that's all, and have been sleeping it off."
"I should think you have had a considerable headache," replied Mark, "judging from your appearance. Is your wife out?"
"Yes, she is away for the day," returned Arthur, after a scarcely perceptible hesitation.
"Will she be back to-night?"
"Not till to-morrow morning. Why do you ask?"
"Why, I was going to ask you to go somewhere with me -- but you look so horribly ill."
"It is nothing," said the other hurriedly, "nothing! I shall be glad to go with you. It will make me think of other things, and so cure me. Where are you going to?"
"I was going to ask you to come with me to see poor John Pether. I'm afraid it's near the end with him."
"You mean that he is dying."
"I fear as much. I've had a doctor to see him these last few days, and he makes light of it. But I know John better than the doctor does. He has been lying still on his bed since yesterday morning, and hasn't spoken. I lost a day's work to-day to stay with him. You see, poor John has no one else in the world to look after him, and I'm afraid he won't trouble us long."
"I'll come at once," exclaimed Arthur, glad of any distraction. "If it seems necessary I will stay with him all night. You don't look very well yourself, Mr. Challenger."
"Why, to tell you the truth, Arthur, I was up all night with him, too, and I should take it very kind of you if you could sit with him a few hours whilst I get a nap."
They set out at once, and soon reached Charlotte Place. The umbrella-mender's shop was shut up, and, as usual under such circumstances, looked gloomy enough. Mark opened the door with a key which he drew from his pocket, and the two passed through the shop into the parlour behind.
John Pether lay in bed, his gaunt face and scanty black hair strongly relieved by the whiteness of the pillow. His features had altered so since Arthur had last seen him as scarcely to be recognisable. Their expression was ghastly; the jaw-bones seemed almost to pierce through the skin; the lips were shrivelled and somewhat drawn back over the clenched teeth. He lay looking straight upwards, if indeed he could be said to look with eyes which were but half open, and showed no sign of intelligence. Only his right arm lay outside the clothes, and the hand was clenched so firmly that the tips of the knuckles were pure white compared with the colour of the skin elsewhere. By the side of his bed was a great heap of newspapers, those at the top lying open as though they had been lately read, those underneath carefully folded up.
"He has been reading since I left," whispered Mark as they entered. "The last thing I did was to fold up all the newspapers."
"Why does he keep such a heap by his side?" whispered Arthur in turn.
"They are papers with accounts of the Communist rebellion in Paris. He has done scarcely anything but read them for several months."
Arthur shuddered involuntarily as he pictured to himself the sick man's thoughts, how they must teem with dreadful images of slaughter. Doubtless these reports realised to John Pether the dreams of the coming revolution on which he had for years persistently dwelt.
"Is he asleep?" asked Arthur, regarding the half-open eyes with something of awe.
"I think not," whispered Mark back, "but I don't know whether he sees us. I'll speak to him."
Accordingly he approached and said some words in a low voice, to which the sick man paid no heed. He lay as though in a trance.
"Has he eaten anything to-day?" asked Arthur.
Mark shook his head.
"He ought to take a dose of the medicine on the table there about ten to-night. But I don't know whether he can be made to do it."
They exchanged a few more whispered sentences, and then Arthur urged upon Mark to go home for a little rest, whilst he himself sat and watched. This Mark consented to do, promising, however, to return shortly after midnight and relieve his friend, who, as he said, seemed also to have much need of sleep. After a few directions with regard to the treatment of Pether, Mark left the house, and Arthur locked the shop door behind him.
Returning to the parlour, he sat down at some distance from the bed and again resigned himself to his misery. But he felt that his thoughts were more endurable even in company such as this than they would have been had he remained alone all night. Before long his mind began to occupy itself with the past history of John Pether. What glimpses he had had of this were so terrible that his imagination could scarcely err in imparting the gloomiest colours to those long years of whose events he knew nothing. What a life had been this man's even during the uneventful period in which Arthur had known him. What terrible brooding over a hideous past, what fierce internal maledictions on that society to which his miseries were mostly due, what maddening visions of a revenge he would live to enjoy had filled up the monotonous days spent in the work of the gloomy little shop. He tried to recollect John Pether as he had first seen him, and he was conscious of how great a change had come over that strongly-marked countenance during the past nine or ten years. Most rapid, however, had been the change since Mr. Tollady's death. The latter had been a true friend to John Pether, as he was to every one whom he knew to be suffering and in need of help, either in word or deed, and his friendship had kept the lonely man's mind from sinking into that hopeless abyss and madness in which it had since been overwhelmed.
He stirred slightly once or twice, showing Arthur that he was, still alive, of which there might otherwise have been doubts, for the colour of his skin was like that of a dead man's, and his breathing could not be heard. Arthur would gladly have taken up one of the papers near the bed, to while away the dreary moments, but he had a fear lest his doing so should offend the sick man. So he was forced back upon his thoughts, and these were anything but enviable companions, as at length twilight deepened into gloom. The window of the chamber looked out upon a wretched little yard, in which at this moment newly-washed clothes were hanging, and these waved hither and thither in the gathering darkness with a ghostly motion. Scarcely a sound from the street could be heard, except that dull, unbroken rumble which seldom quits the ear of one sitting in a London house. Unable to bear the stillness, Arthur at length rose, stepped past the bed and lit a small lamp which stood on the mantel-piece, making a noise as he did so, in the hope of rousing Pether's attention He was not successful in this effort, so, after leaning across the bed to draw the one dingy curtain which darkened the window, he laid his hand on the man's shoulder and spoke to him. A look of recognition seemed to rise to Pether's face, and he spoke in a low whisper.
"Put the light nearer. It is almost time. I must look again to see how they began."
Arthur put the light on a chair by the bed, and Pether, taking up the first newspaper which came to his hand, began to read, muttering passages half aloud. The way in which he did this sent a chill through Arthur's veins. He knew that it was mere delirium and not healthy consciousness which stimulated Pether.
He re-assumed his chair, and his thoughts once more flowed irresistibly back into the gloomy channel of his own griefs. But this time thought seemed to bring with it so great a weariness that before long the lids of his eyes sank as under weights. His slumber of the previous night had been brief and disturbed, and strong emotions had worn out every nerve. In vain he made great efforts to keep himself awake, walking up and down at one time, as well as the small chamber would permit, and trying to fix his thoughts on Pether, who had ceased to read and lay holding a paper in his lank hands. Spite of all, his utter weariness was not to be resisted. He fell asleep.
It appeared to him to be hours after, but was in reality little more than ten minutes, when he was awakened by a fearful cry which sent all his blood rushing back upon his heart and left him marble with terror. A heavy hand was upon his shoulder, under the pressure of which he in vain tried to rise. Staring straight before him with such consciousness as he had left, he saw that it was John Pether whose hand he felt. The latter was standing in front of him, dressed only in a long white shirt, in his left hand the little lamp, and with his face so close to Arthur's as almost to touch it. All his features seemed red and swollen with a sudden access of blood, and his dark eyes flashed with a fearful fiery radiance in the lamp-light. His breath, hot and quick, came full upon the young man's forehead, and from his lips proceeded a stream of wild and fierce eloquence, delivered in a voice which at times all but yelled.
"Wake!" he cried. "Wake! Can you sleep whilst the drums are beating and the bells are ringing so loud? Wake, and join yon whilst you have time! We are fifty thousand strong, and already half London is in our hands. Everyone who is ragged or hungry or oppressed, everyone who knows the bitterness of long and hopeless waiting for justice, everyone whom wrong has driven into crime, everyone whom tyranny has made mad -- all are with us! Hark! Now the drums have ceased, and the firing has begun. They will fight desperately, these rich men, for their bags of gold and their palaces overflowing with luxury. But what can they do against the millions of us slaves who have cast away our fetters, and know our strength? Cannon, too; not a house shall be left standing, not the latest-born of our tyrants shall live another hour!"
He raised his heavy hand from Arthur's shoulders and held it up, in an attitude as if of listening. At the same moment Arthur started to his feet. He would have fled, but he had not the strength.
"Here! Here!" yelled the maniac, a minute after. "This way! Follow me! I have a right to lead, for none have suffered more than I have. Fire these houses, and kill every living creature that flees from them! It grows dark, but the fires will light us to our work. No pity! No mercy! Aye, the women and children, too! Kill, kill, kill!"
Uttering terrific cries, he waved the lamp wildly above his head, then flung it with violence upon the floor. In the same instant he sprang forward like a wild-beast and seized Arthur around the throat. For a moment the two struggled in the dark, but for a moment only. Then the oil from the lamp suddenly igniting flamed up to the very ceiling. Instantly the great heap of newspapers had taken fire, and the conflagration spread thence, quick as thought, to the bedclothes. Arthur was conscious of the fierce glare, the terrific heat, and, very shortly, of blinding smoke; but terror had deprived him of the power of reasoning, and he knew no guide save the blind impulse to struggle for his life. It could not have been but a few minutes that he writhed beneath the madman's terrific grasp, but it seemed to him that he struggled with fury for at least an hour. He could no longer see anything but a blood-red glare swimming before his eyes, his brain seemed bursting with agony -- in a moment he would have lost consciousness; but before that happened the grasp upon his throat suddenly relaxed, and he found himself free. The same instant found him wrapped in an immense cloud of stifling smoke, whilst he became aware for the first time that his clothes had caught fire. Rushing wildly in the direction of the shop, he succeeded in finding the door, and, forgetting that it opened inwards, threw himself with all his force against it repeatedly. Whilst he was doing so, the door was suddenly thrust open from without, and he found himself rushing into the open street, among a crowd of people who were shouting "Fire!"
Still speeding onwards, he suddenly found himself seized and clung to, whilst the voice of Mark Challenger sounded in his ears.
"Good God!" cried the latter. "Stop! Where is John Pether? How did it happen, Arthur?"
For some minutes Arthur was unable to speak, then he gave in a few hurried words an account of all that had happened. Even as he spoke the cries of "Fire!" continued to ring through the street; and a great crowd forced the two quite away from the spot whither they were struggling. The narrow court was already filled with volumes of smoke. Mark, leaving his companion, struggled with difficulty towards the shop, and was rushing in through the open door when a policeman seized and detained him. It would have been impossible by this time to penetrate to the inner room, and Mark was compelled to stand back amid the throng, and wait the result. Before long the firemen arrived, and within an hour the fire was got sufficiently under to permit of the shop being entered. Two firemen essayed the task in company, and at the end of five minutes returned, bearing between them an unrecognisable corpse.
The whole of the following day Arthur was bound to his bed by illness. A slight access of delirium during the night had been followed by prostrating weakness, and a headache so severe that it was agony even to move. Throughout these long hours of pain he was haunted perpetually by the memory of last night's horrors, only broken at intervals by a burst of passionate grief when he painfully raised his head and looked round the desolate room. One of Carrie's dresses still hung behind the door, and so distressing did he find the constant reverting of his eyes to this object, that he rose for a moment and removed it out of sight. He tried to sleep, but wholly in vain; he endeavoured to read, but the letters struck in through his eyeballs upon his brain with the painfulness of a violent blow. His only resource was to lie and think.
The next night he again slept little. Rising early, he packed his large trunk with what ,clothing he possessed, adding a few of his favourite books, and one or two small remembrances of Carrie. This done, he sat down and wrote a brief letter to Mark Challenger, merely saying he was compelled to leave London very suddenly, and begging that Mark would take away and retain till it should be re-demanded all the property left behind in the room in Huntley Street. The letter sealed and directed, he went down and gave Mrs. Oaks notice of his intention to leave immediately, making some plausible excuse to explain his wife's absence. After that he removed his boxes by means of a cab to the nearest railway station, depositing it in the left-luggage office till he should have found himself another lodging. This object he effected before the afternoon, and the evening saw him seated in a garret which he had taken in a dreary part of Islington.
No criminal in fear of the gallows could have effected a more complete escape from the eyes of all who knew him; yet Arthur was urged to this step by no sense of guilt, merely by overwhelming shame and' a blind, unreasoning desire to remove himself entirely from the scene of his sufferings. Once established in the wretched garret, which on account of its quietness and security seemed a very haven of refuge for his storm-beaten soul, he breathed more freely. Even his body seemed to benefit by the change, for a long night of profound sleep left him altogether free from fever and with a more temperate pulse than he had known for many days. He rose shortly after six o'clock, and, throwing open his lattice, drank in the fresh breath of the July morning with an effect upon his spirits almost exhilarating. The narrow street below, bordered on either side with neglected gardens, was absolutely still, and grass growing here and there between the paving stones seemed to show that traffic was almost unknown. For the moment Arthur felt that he would ask nothing more than to live and die, unknown, in such retirement as this.
first of all it behoved him to consider how he should find employment. To return to his old place was, of course, impossible. He had absented himself too long, and, even had this been no objection, he was determined to shake off completely every trace of his former life. In his purse, moreover, he had five pounds still, and he calculated that, by exercising economy, he could live nearly ten weeks on this sum, for he only paid half-a-crown a week for his garret. The prospect of so long a period of absolute freedom was so delightful to him that he embraced it forthwith. Why should he trouble to seek for work immediately? When the time of need came a good workman like himself could have no difficulty in finding a place. For a while, at least, he would allow himself to taste the rare sweets of liberty.
Throughout the day he occupied himself pleasantly enough in reading. He was surprised at the sudden calm which had come over him, which allowed him to put aside all his gloomy and painful thoughts and drink once more of his old delights, finding the draught the sweeter from his long abstinence. Then, towards evening, he issued forth and wandered about the back streets of Islington, quite sure of meeting no one who would recognise him. When it grew dark he found himself irresistibly attracted towards the thronging life of the larger thoroughfares. He experienced a delight in mingling with the crowd greater than he could have conceived, a delight of which he had enjoyed but a brief foretaste on the fatal evening when Carrie's voice first became known to him. By degrees he drew towards the City, into the Strand. Here the glittering doorways of the theatres began to attract him, and, after standing near one of them for a long time, exciting his fancy by a perusal of the play-bill, he yielded to the voice of the charmer and entered. A comic opera was being played, one of those thrice-warmed French ragoûts, slightly unspiced to suit the less discriminating English palate, a dazzling mélange of tinsel, and dance and song, where lovely English faces come and go against a background of roses and melody, and taper limbs whirl gracefully hither and thither amid a mist of muslin. To Arthur, who had never even witnessed the legitimate drama, this was the veritable cup of Circe; his senses were rapt; without a thought of resistance he yielded to the intoxicating influences of the spell.
Perhaps it will be better to render no detailed account of the few days which followed, days in which poor Arthur sounded all the depths of folly and degradation, impelled by the feverish need of distraction, of forgetting his past miseries and avoiding the thoughts of his future prospects. This was his period of Bohemianism, a phase of life from which few escape who are raised above the crowd by the fineness of their sensibilities, the warmth and strength of their imaginative powers. It lasted scarcely a week, by the end of which time every farthing was spent and every article on which money could be obtained sold or pledged. The last night was one of vulgar and brutal debauch. One does not practise economy with one's last sixpenny-piece, and there are few depths to which those will not descend whose motto has become, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die."
On the morning which followed, with hideously-swollen features, with clothing filthy and torn, shaking as if in a palsy, Arthur slunk along the back streets of Islington, seeking for some means of earning a mouthful of bread. He would not have dared to present himself at any printing-office, for his own figure reflected in the windows of the shops he passed made him shudder and shrink away in disgust. He could now only hope for work of the meanest kind, and that he accordingly sought. He saw a paper in a public-house window making known the fact that a "potman" was wanted there. He offered his services, but, owing to his lack of experience, they were refused. He entered one or two warehouses, and, though at the cost of terrible struggles with his pride, asked if they wanted a porter. In each case he was contemptuously bidden to go about his business. By this time it was noon, and the odour of dinners steaming out of the cook-shops he passed excited his hunger past endurance. So famishing did he at length become that, on noticing half an apple which some child had thrown away in the .street, he waited till he thought himself unobserved, pounced upon it, and, retreating down a neighbouring alley, devoured it eagerly. Exhausted with these sufferings, he at length sat down to rest on one of the seats by the reservoir on the summit of Pentonville Hill. As all who have had the misfortune to endure semi-starvation know, the first terrible pangs of hunger are wont to be succeeded by a deadly sickness, and, when this passes away, neither hunger nor sickness is any longer felt, but the sufferer is for a brief space at rest. This stage Arthur had now reached, and for more than two hours he sat watching the passers-by, wondering at the ease he enjoyed. All the time his mind was engaged in the peculiar process of unconscious reflection. Whilst he persuaded himself that he was only looking about him in a lazy manner, he was in reality engaged in accustoming himself to face the dread necessity of begging, whether of private persons or at the workhouse. What other resource was left to him? If he had shrunk from facing his friends when only deterred by shame on another's account, how utterly impossible was it now for him to request their aid when his very appearance bore unmistakable evidence to the degradation of his life. Rather than William Noble should see him now, he felt that he would die of hunger. Evening approached, and once more the voracious wolf, hunger, began to gnaw angrily at his vitals.' If he was not to die in the street, he must do something now. He rose, but at first could not walk, staggering back against the wall. Turning out of Pentonville Road he went by the quieter neighbourhood in the direction of Gray's Inn Road. Before long he arrived before a baker's shop. No one was inside but a young girl, and she seemed to Arthur to have a pleasant look. He felt that it would be but little degradation to beg of her, and, if she refused him, he was sure she would do so gently. So, after a moment's hesitation, he forced himself to enter the shop, and, with face burning and voice which did not seem to be his own, he begged for a penny roll. The young girl looked at him for a moment in surprise, perhaps alarm, but the next he saw her eyes lighting up with womanly compassion, and he knew that he had not begged in vain.
"Put it in your pocket, quick," she said, as she gave him a small loaf. "If father was to come in he wouldn't like me to give it you."
Arthur only replied by a look of the intensest gratitude, and instantly left the shop. Never had food tasted so sweet to him as this did, but, alas! how little there was of it. Nevertheless, it, had stilled for the time the fiercest pangs of hunger, and, as he had not the courage to beg again, he began to make his way homewards, hoping to forget in sleep all the agonies of the past and the still gloomier prospect of the future.
He rose early next morning, weak and feverish, but resolved once more to set forth and endeavour to find employment. In a day or two he would have to pay his rent again; failing that, he would most likely find himself homeless as well as starving. Yes, for this one day he would do his utmost to find work. If he should again fail he had no idea what he should do. Possibly the extremity of need might drive him to the humiliation of seeking either Mark Challenger or William Noble. With no other refreshment than a glass of water, he issued forth on his hopeless task. But he had over-rated his strength. With the utmost difficulty he toiled slowly along, past the Angel and as far as the reservoir; but here his powers altogether failed him, and he was obliged once more to make use of the seats. Every limb trembled with exhaustion, his forehead bathed in a cold sweat, at his heart a feeling as though a great flood of tears was there gathering in readiness to rush resistlessly to his eyes; he sank upon the bench. As he did so a deep sob broke involuntarily from between his lips.
On the same bench was sitting an elderly gentleman, engaged in reading the newspaper. Arthur had scarcely noticed him, but, when the sob of anguish made itself heard, the old gentleman looked up from his paper and regarded Arthur curiously. The latter's eyes were fixed upon the ground in a dull despairing gaze. After once or twice looking up from his paper, the old gentleman moved slightly nearer to his companion on the bench, and asked him if he was in trouble. Arthur stared at the speaker for a moment as if unable to collect his faculties, but then a ray of hope lit up his countenance, and he replied that he was indeed in trouble, for he had been looking for employment a long time without success. The old gentleman, still surveying him with the somewhat critical eye of one who did not lack experience in the world's impostures, proceeded to enquire as to the kind of employment he required, and, on receiving the information, turned back calmly to his paper, and for some minutes appeared to peruse it in forgetfulness of Arthur. Such, however, was not really the case; for all at once he turned round, and handed the paper to the young man, pointing, as he did so, to an item in the advertising columns. Arthur saw that it was an advertisement for a compositor, the address being in Edgware Road.
"Do you think it worth your while to go after it?" asked the stranger, still eyeing Arthur keenly.
"Certainly I do, sir," he replied, with as cheerful a voice as he could command. "I shall go at once. Thank you very much for your kindness."
The old gentleman nodded pleasantly, and Arthur rose with a fresh impulse of hope. But the first few steps showed him how miserably weak he was. Edgware Road was at the ,very least three miles away. He felt that it would be impossible to walk the distance. He was on the point of falling from absolute exhaustion when he felt a hand on his shoulder, and, turning, saw again the old gentleman by his side.
"Bye-the-by," asked the latter, "have you had any breakfast this morning?"
Arthur replied in the negative, with a sickly smile.
"Or any dinner yesterday?"
Arthur shook his head.
"Then how are you likely to get work?" asked the other. "Or what use would it be when you'd got it?"
Arthur made no reply, but he saw that his unknown friend had in the meantime taken out his purse.
"I have a mind to try an experiment," said the old gentleman. "There's half a sovereign, and there's my card. If you get work and feel disposed to consider this money as a loan, you can come and pay it back to me at that address. You understand?"
"Perfectly well, thank you sir," replied Arthur. "If I live to earn a week's wages you will certainly see me."
"I hope to do so," returned the other. "Now go and get something to eat, for you look as if you wanted it."
Arthur stammered out his thanks as well as he could, and the old gentleman, after nodding pleasantly once more, departed on his way.
Without further detail I will state that Arthur succeeded in obtaining the employment he sought, though not without great difficulty, owing to his lack of recommendations. It was a very small business, and the master was not a particularly agreeable man; but he saw that Arthur would be a useful man in his office, and took advantage of the circumstances of the case to arrange with him for the lowest possible wages. They would be just enough to live on, however, and at present this was all that Arthur cared for. The same evening he gave up his garret in Islington, exchanging it for a far less agreeable abode in Chapel Street, distant only some five minutes' walk from his employment.
With the following day began a period of hopeless, grinding toil, of long days spent in miserably-recompensed labour, followed by nights which hunger often made hideous with restlessness or terrifying dreams. For, spite of terrible temptations, the strength of which could only be realised by one who has been in similar positions, Arthur persisted in his resolution of saving every penny he possibly could towards paying off his debt. It took him a month, with the utmost economy, to save the ten shillings. How often, as he returned from his work at night, was he tempted to spend some of his savings and enjoy the luxury of a satisfying meal; what ghastly fascination was there in the glaring fronts of the public-houses, beckoning him to enter and, in a few draughts of fiery liquor, forget at once his hunger and that vain folly which men call honour. Why should he suffer so to pay this debt? The lender did not know his name, and it was scarcely probable that he should trouble to remember the address of the advertising printer. For all that Arthur was determined to repay the debt: common gratitude, if no finer feeling, demanded that he should do so. And, after hours of fierce conflict with himself, after weeks of the most utter misery which even these few shillings could greatly have relieved, Arthur did repay the debt. He would not venture to carry the money in his pocket as far as Islington, where the old gentleman lived; the temptation on the way might prove too strong, and any little accident, such as the gentleman's absence from home, might lead to a fatal hesitation. The difficulty was better got over by the agency of a post-office order. With a sigh of ineffable relief, Arthur addressed this from the card his benefactor had given him, and posted it.
This was on Saturday afternoon. The same evening Arthur sank into a terrible despondency, a sickness of the heart, exceeding in misery even that bodily suffering to which he was now becoming almost reconciled. With the repayment of the debt, it seemed as though an impulse to healthy exertion had been suddenly withdrawn; henceforth there was nothing to look forward to but an arid future spreading out into interminable tracts of hopeless toil. To obtain a better place was almost impossible, for he now knew his employer sufficiently well to be sure that he would not aid him the least to improve his position, but would rather do his utmost to retain him in this state of servitude. Arthur was rapidly losing all self-respect, all hope of better things, all thoughts above his every-day labour and every-day needs. He never opened a book to read a page, for he felt no longer any interest in the cultivation of his mind. To what end should he trouble? Even the recollection of the wealth of which little more than half a year would make him master brought with it no saving grace. For he had lost all faith in himself. How would he be better off when he possessed his five thousand pounds? Certainly he would not suffer from starvation, but, otherwise, how would he differ from what he was at present? Evidently fate had declared that his should be a useless, unproductive life, and it was vain to struggle against the decree. With a bitter smile he reflected upon the hopes and the aspirations of past years; already they were growing so dim, so unsubstantial to his memory, that he could with difficulty realise the power they had once exercised over his life. He thought of Helen Norman -- indeed no single day passed on which he did not still think of her -- and he was glad that her portrait was in the safe keeping of his friend Noble; if it had been in his own possession he could not have refrained from continually looking at it, and the indulgence could have had no consequence save perpetual self-torture. Of course, ,she who was still his wife in the dogged estimation of the law, he thought of less often, and always with a vague species of compassion which was not altogether without a mixture of resentment. If she was now suffering from the consequences of her folly, what, else could she have expected? And was he not suffering? Had he not suffered as much as, aye more than it was possible for her to suffer, and wholly in consequence of her conduct? On the other hand she might still be living in luxury, supported by the infatuation of some wealthy admirer; and in that case was she worthy of pity? Aye, even then worthy of infinite pity. For she had voluntarily exchanged the devotion of a faithful heart for the sensual caprice of a fop, an unprincipled rake, and her hour of utter wretchedness could not in any case be far off. In such passing moments Arthur felt that there was still a spot of tenderness in his heart for the poor, weak fool; but the love, the passion which had once inflamed him, that had gone never to return.
Monday came, and he went to his work as usual. When he came home at dinner-time he was surprised to find a letter for him, directed in a hand of which he had not the least knowledge. He opened it, and found it contained a short note from the old gentleman in Islington, acknowledging the receipt of the ten shillings, expressing his extreme gratification at finding Arthur's promise adhered to, and, finally, returning the money with the request that Arthur would accept it as a mark of his creditor's esteem.
It was a fatal present. With this unwonted wealth in his pocket, Arthur no longer felt compelled to deny himself so vigorously as hitherto every little indulgence that might make his life at least more tolerable. The same night he yielded unresistingly to the attraction of the public-house, and, after the first draught, he continued to drink with the sole object of inducing oblivion. In his present condition this' was the utmost happiness he could hope for, and this he attained. Even whilst doing his best to enervate his faculties of thought, however, he remembered the narrowness of his resources and resolved to avoid wild debauch. Not to-night only would he need to deaden his self-consciousness, but for many and many a night to come, and he must carefully husband the means for purchasing forgetfulness. He knew that on the morrow he should pay the penalty in horrible suffering, but what was that compared with these few hours of blessed delight?
Soon every night saw him wandering from bar to bar, brutalising himself with whatever cheap poison came within his means, then staggering home to his garret to spend the few hours before daylight in heavy unconsciousness. The day grew to be nothing but a preparation for the night, a dreary waste of hours which must somehow be plodded through in order that the oasis of the night might be reached. Life such as this soon destroyed his appetite, and the diminished need for food left more money for drink. He was past reflection; in the few hours during which he was capable of continued thought he bound his mind down to the task before him, not daring to look before or behind. He grew altogether negligent of his personal appearance, and his very features seemed to partake of the degeneration of his mind. Day by day the clouds of misery seemed to envelope his life closer and closer. It seemed as if either the hospital or the gaol must ere long behold the close of such a career.
At length he lost his place. Of late he had been growing more and more irregular in his time of appearance at the office, and for some weeks his master had been on the point of discharging him. At length, without any warning, he was supplanted in the office, and was told that his services were no longer needed. The same evening he was under an obligation to pay considerable arrears of rent, or else to quit his lodgings. Taking the money his master paid him, he discharged as much of his debt as possible, and once more found himself homeless and penniless in the streets, just as night was falling.
In this moment of despair came a thought which had several times of late passed through his mind, but which he had never yet been courageous enough firmly to face. Now with the thought, the courage came also. He dwelt upon it, looked at it in all its phases, made up his mind to pursue it even to the end. That thought led him along the Marylebone Road, eastwards. As he passed the workhouse, it was the time when the "casuals" were beginning to assemble in order to seek admittance for the night. They stood in a long row against the wall, wretches of all ages, and of every degree of misery, some emaciated with incurable disease, some hale and strong, their only ailment being laziness, all exhibiting in their persons the results of abject poverty. Ever since early morning it had rained unceasingly, and at this moment the rain streamed down pitilessly from the blackening sky upon the row of drenched and shivering creatures. The sight of them made Arthur pause for a moment, as if a doubt had crossed his mind, but the next moment he walked rapidly on muttering to himself, "Never, never!"
The thought led him down Tottenham Court Road and then off to the left into Huntley Street. He stood still for a moment in the darkness before the house where he had lived with Carrie, and a thrill of horror at the recollection of all he had suffered there made his heart chiller than the body which contained it, though the wet and cold of this November night had numbed every limb. With a bitter curse upon his fate, he passed hurriedly on, again crossed Tottenham Court Road, and found himself in a few minutes in Charlotte Place. He knew that Mr. Tollady's shop had long since disappeared, being replaced by a larger one of a different nature, but still it was a pleasure to him to see the place where it had been, the narrow street in which the only happy time of his life had been passed. John Pether's shop was also transformed. He and Mr. Tollady were at rest. Mark Challenger, the third of those friends of his boyhood, no doubt still lived, but Arthur's business was no longer with the living.
The thought soon bore him away, once more eastwards. It was now black night, and the rain came down more pitilessly than ever. Twenty minutes' sharp walk brought him into the Strand, and here he hesitated. The object of his thought now lay at a very short distance below him. Which of these narrow streets should he take in his way to the river? What spot was likely to be the quietest? Where could one seek eternal rest with least danger of interference?
Unconsciously he had passed at a very short distance from Noble's abode, which was in one of the dark and narrow streets between which he was choosing. As he meditated, the recollection of this occurred to his mind. Why not choose that street as well as another? Possibly there might be a light in Noble's window, and the comparison between his friend's condition and his own would be a new means of strengthening his resolve. At once he crossed the Strand and entered the narrow street.
On the present evening William Noble was sitting alone in his lodgings, pursuing a train of thought, which, to judge from his countenance, was none of the most agreeable. His room was a very small one, on the third story, at once a bed and a sitting room. A cheerful fire burned in the grate, and its warm rays did their best to expel the recollection of the dreary waste of waters upon which the night had descended. Noble had drawn a little deal-topped table near to the fire, apparently with the intention of reading. At his elbow lay open a volume of Mill's "Political Economy," and on the table were also volumes exhibiting the names of Ricardo and Malthus. On one side of the room was a small book-case, containing some thirty or forty books of a very substantial appearance, a closer examination of which would have shown them nearly all to be works bearing on social problems. The library was an index to its owner's mind. By nature grave, earnest, enthusiastic, and, withal, intensely matter-of-fact, Noble found a thoroughly congenial study in the severe problem of social science. Though tender-hearted as few men are, he knew little of literature in its more humanising products; poetry and all the sweet and tender off-shoots of the imagination he cared nothing for. Intensely convinced that he lived in an age of savage facts which required the most resolute facing, it was in the attempt to face and master them that he found his highest delight.
But even John Stuart Mill seemed to have but little attraction for him this evening. He sat over the fire with his forehead resting in his hands, much troubled in countenance. And in fact he had much to make him sad and thoughtful. The club which he had worked so hard to establish and to inspire with some portion of his own lofty unselfishness had utterly collapsed a few months since, collapsed beyond hope of reconstruction. The history of this enterprise had done much to disabuse Noble of his extreme confidence in human sincerity and strength of purpose. He saw that the problems before him were indeed far more difficult than he had been wont to represent them to his own mind. His confidence in his own powers of judging individual men, moreover, had lately received a severe shock. A friend of whom he thought very highly had recently obtained from him a loan of a very large portion of his savings, and had immediately disappeared, without trace. The loss of the money weighed but little with Noble in comparison with the loss of trust in his friend.
But at present these matters, though supplying a gloomy background for his reflections, were not the principal object of his thoughts. Just now he was thinking of Arthur Golding. For months he had lost sight of Arthur completely; he knew not whether he was living or dead. Shortly after the death of John Pether, he had been visited by Mark Challenger, who had told him all that he knew concerning their common friend, but beyond this he had been able to learn nothing whatever. The loss of Arthur's companionship had been felt severely by Noble, more severely, indeed, than he could have anticipated; for now that he had had leisure to reflect long upon the memory of his friend, he felt that his had been the only one among his acquaintances upon whose genuine sympathy and understanding he could truly rely. He saw clearly the many points in which Arthur's character differed from his own, but he understood also that it was on account of these very differences that he had grown so to like him. About Arthur there had always been something of pleasing mystery, in reality the halo of genius, to the impression of which Noble had gladly submitted, though in no wise comprehending its nature. Had he known the real bent of his friend's genius it is probable that he would not have sympathised with it at all; but as long as the genius had merely found expression in the glance of his eyes, the energy of his conversation, the unselfish nature of his aims, Noble recognised in it a vague superiority to which he had himself no claim, and grew to love its possessor.
So ill at ease did he become by indulging these thoughts, that before long he found it intolerable to remain alone. He was quite unable to study, and, after one or two vain efforts at so distracting his mind, he closed his books, rose, and prepared to go out. He resolved that he would visit Mark Challenger and ask if he had any news of Arthur. No doubt the errand would be in vain, but a most unwonted restlessness rendered it absolutely necessary that he should be active. A sharp walk through such a night would surely restore him to his usual quietude, if anything would.
Noble put on his top-coat, took his umbrella, and descended the stairs. As he threw open the front door and was on the point of leaving the house, he suddenly started back confounded. The light from the hall lamp streaming out into the black street had illuminated a face and form bearing some kind of hideous resemblance to the object of the past hour's uneasy thoughts. Something like a startled look of recognition had also risen to the face before him, whose pallid ghastliness was for a moment shot over with a slight flush; but the same instant both face and form had vanished, swallowed up, as it seemed, in the darkness. At once Noble had re-collected his faculties, and darted out in pursuit. He caught a glimpse of a black shape fleeing beneath a street-lamp a few yards before him, and he chased it like a hunter in pursuit of his game. The black shape had just come into view beneath the next lamp, and Noble was on the point of springing upon it, when suddenly it fell prostrate, with a thud which sounded clearly through the quiet street. As the object of his pursuit fell, Noble sprang to his side.
"Golding! Arthur Golding!" he exclaimed, bending over the prostrate form. "Is it you?"
But there was no answer. Turning the face up to the light, Noble saw that it was without doubt his friend whom he had encountered, but whether now living or dead it was more difficult to decide. Arthur was pallid and cold as marble, and his limbs seemed to have stiffened as he fell. No trace of breath escaped from between the thin lips. His hat had fallen off in the chase, and his matted thick hair was rapidly becoming soaked with the rain, as all his clothing already was. As he raised the prostrate head, Noble felt something warm upon his fingers, and, hastily examining them by the lamp, found that it was blood.
With the aid of a policeman, who fortunately happened to pass, Noble quickly removed the insensible man into the nearest public-house, where means were rapidly applied for his restoration. In half an hour Arthur was able to rise and accompany his preserver home. Since his recovery he had scarcely spoken, and his replies to Noble's questions were brief and incoherent. Fearing lest some serious illness should overtake him in the night, Noble put him at once into his own bed, and himself sat up till far into the night. About two o'clock, seeing that Arthur slept a sound and apparently healthy sleep, he made a bed of the arm-chair and sought by the fire-side a few hours' rest.
In the morning, Arthur woke with his faculties undisturbed, though so weak in body that he was quite unable to rise. Accordingly, Noble left him in bed, whilst he went to his day's work. Arthur lay all day long occupied with his own mingled reflections, scarcely knowing whether to be glad or sorry that fate had rescued him from the death he had contemplated and brought him once more in connection with his friend. He felt no disposition to stir, or to find other occupation than that afforded by his thoughts. He needed these hours of quietness to become reconciled to the change in his prospects, to call his mind once more back to the world with which he had believed himself to have done. As yet, he was not able to regard himself as a responsible being. William Noble had saved his life, and with him must lie the disposal of his future. Probably this day of perfect mental and bodily rest was the happiest Arthur had experienced since his marriage. He was, as it were, transformed into a child. Who of us that has lived to do earnest battle on our own account with the stern forces of life would not be glad to return, even for a day, to the condition of a child, to be devoid of cares for the future, of regret for the past, to think of nothing save the moment's joy, secure in a parent's omnipotent affection? Such was Arthur's state of mind throughout this day. With the desire of life he had cast aside all life's responsibilities. To Noble belonged the care of his future, and in Noble's friendship he had absolute confidence.
He could scarcely believe that a whole day had passed when his friend returned in the evening. Noble asked no questions, but evidently left it to Arthur himself either to relate or withhold his story. It was Arthur's first wish to make a confidant of his preserver, to impart to him without reserve the long course of troubles which had so nearly terminated in his death. And this he did the same evening, Noble sitting by his bed, listening with a sad interest as Arthur passed from point to point of his melancholy narrative. The narrator had no expressions strong enough to give utterance to the scorn, the hatred with which he regarded himself for his conduct during the past few months. He did not beg for sympathy, he spoke no word of self-justification. He had wittingly and of set ,purpose endeavoured to brutalise his own nature, and it might be he had so far succeeded that his old self had gone for ever. In his bodily weakness he even shed bitter tears of self-reproach. The emotion did him good, and the whole confession, by forcing him to behold himself in an objective light, imparted a healthiness to his mind which it was very long since he had enjoyed.
When Arthur ceased speaking, Noble reflected in silence for nearly ten minutes.
"And of your wife you know absolutely nothing?" he asked at length, regarding his friend with the sharp but kindly scrutiny of his clear grey eyes.
"Nothing," replied Arthur, who had sunk back enfeebled.
Again there was a long silence.
"I have thought over the course to be pursued during the whole day," began Noble again, "and in what you have told me there is nothing to make me alter my plans. Do you feel very weak?"
"At present, very. But it will soon go. I am not feverish, or otherwise ill. I shall be myself to-morrow."
"Let us rather say in a week. Now listen to what I propose. You remember the Vennings?"
"They have a room to let in their house. Now I propose that you should take this room. I tell them that you have had an illness, and that gets over all difficulties. In the meantime I look out for a place for you, whilst you occupy yourself in getting strong. How do you like the scheme?"
"But, my dear Noble," said Arthur, turning his head, with a smile more resembling that of old than had yet risen to his face, "you forget that I am penniless."
"Certainly not. It is you that forget that I am your friend, and may claim a friend's rights. Sufficient to say that I am not penniless. Have you any other objection?"
Arthur's strength was already well-nigh exhausted by the long conversation, and, had he wished to object further, he had not the power. Taking Noble's hand, he pressed it firmly between both his own. Then he closed his eyes, and, still holding the hand of his staunch friend, dropped to sleep like a child.
The reader -- whom it is an author's happy privilege to suppose profoundly interested in the book before him -- may possibly have felt some little inquisitiveness relative to Mr. Gilbert Gresham's movements since he took prudent flight before the dangerous attractions of his ward. Prior to the autumn of the present year, the artist had maintained desultory communication with the house in Portland Place, his brief letters being in each case addressed to Mrs. Cumberbatch. He always requested to be kindly remembered to Miss Norman, and desired that she would not fail to acquaint him with any service he could perform for her. Politeness required such sentences as these, and it was very rarely indeed that Mr. Gresham deviated from the laws of conventional courtesy. For the rest, he appeared to have perfectly recovered his health and spirits. He was somewhat unsettled, living principally in Italy, with an occasional visit to Switzerland or Germany; but lately he gravitated towards Paris, always his favourite city, but which he could not persuade himself to visit till quite assured that he should find there peace and quietude. His art was by no means neglected. During the present year, he had sent several pictures to England, three of which had found a place in the Academy exhibition.
But, early in August, Mrs. Cumberbatch had received a letter from her nephew, containing more momentous news than that with which his epistles were ordinarily freighted. In the first place, he acquainted his aunt with the fact that the end of the month would in all probability see him again in England. He was coming over with a party of friends from Paris, who were desirous of making a brief tour in the United Kingdom, some half-dozen of whom he would probably entertain for a few weeks at his house before they commenced, and as they returned from their expedition. The next and more important item of intelligence, was to the effect that the lease of the house in Portland Place terminated on Christmas Day of the present year, and that, all things considered, he did not think he should renew it. He was at present in negotiation for the purchase of a house in Versailles. Should he effect this purchase, he should take up his abode indefinitely in France. Nothing was said of either Mrs. Cumberbatch or Helen Norman. The former might, of course, consider herself as very shortly to be de trop. The latter, when made acquainted with the contents of this letter, could not help wondering somewhat anxiously what views her worthy guardian entertained with regard to her future.
The suspense of both was put to an end when, towards the middle of August, Mr. Gresham himself appeared, accompanied by the threatened Parisian friends. The meeting with her guardian was not so awkward as Helen had feared. Mr. Gresham had come forward to meet her with a pleasant smile, and, whilst shaking her hand, had spoken a few agreeable words in a manner as far from embarrassment as could well be imagined. He was evidently quite his old self, with the exception that his cynicism had become even a little more pronounced. Throughout his guests' stay, he spoke but little with Helen, limiting himself to gentlemanly solicitude on the score of her health, and exchanging a few words with regard to Maud and her husband, both of whom, bye-the-by, were present once or twice to meet the French visitors. Helen could not help marvelling where his paternal feelings had gone to when he spoke on the latter subject. He mentioned Maud very much as he would have mentioned any newly-married young lady with whom he had been acquainted, and appeared glad that she moved a good deal in the world. Maud rather wanted ton he said, and in this way she would acquire it.
Helen was rather surprised that her guardian made no mention to her of his proposed change of residence, and at length concluded that either he had altered his mind, or he would not speak on the subject till his return from the tour. But, on the last day, Mr. Gresham intimated to her that he would be glad of half-an-hour's private conversation in the library, and she went thither with pleasure in the prospect of having her doubts solved.
Mr. Gresham stood with his back to the fire when his ward entered, and, stepping forward with a motion of the utmost politeness, he begged her to be seated. He began to speak as if the conversation was to be no more than an ordinary one.
"I am glad to see, Miss Norman," he said, with a smile of polished cynicism, "that you have abandoned to ruder, and therefore more suitable, hands the task with which you were employed when I left England."
He had always addressed her as Miss Norman since his return, never as Helen.
"I fear I have obtained your good opinion by false pretences," replied Helen, also smiling, though in her own frank manner.
"What! You still play the part of an aggravated species of sister of mercy?"
"I still do what little good I can," she replied.
"But I think you have never been absent for any great time since we have been here?"
"It would have been scarcely respectful to these ladies and gentlemen to absent myself each day."
"And you continue to go to the unknown regions of the East?"
"There is still no lack of employment there."
He paused for a few moments, still smiling, though with a subdued expression of surprise upon his countenance.
"Mrs. Cumberbatch probably acquainted you," he resumed, "with my intention to give up this house, and live near Paris?"
"Yes," he continued, looking up to the ceiling with a curious smile of self-ridicule. "I hesitated long and gravely between the Dorsetshire farm and a very passable little house in Versailles, and at length I arrived at the conclusion that my temperament lacked somewhat the bucolic side. It is just possible I might be ennuyé in Dorsetshire before many years had passed, just possible. So I decided ultimately for Versailles. Do you approve the choice, Miss Norman?"
"I think you did wisely to follow your individual tastes."
"You do? Then I am happy. Well, my lease here is out at Christmas. Do you think you can arrange with Mrs. Cumberbatch to be ready by then?"
"You forget, Mr. Gresham, that you have not acquainted me with your plans regarding both of us."
"My plans?" he returned, with an affectation of surprise. "Mais certainement -- pardon me, I should say, certainly I have. Of course my house is entirely at your service, Miss Norman, whether it be situated in London or Versailles."
Helen stood silent in extreme surprise.
"Have you any objection to living in France?" continued Mr. Gresham.
"No objection on the score of the country," she replied. "But at present I could not think of leaving London. I need not explain my reasons, Mr. Gresham. In your eyes they are foolish enough, no doubt, but with me they outweigh every consideration."
"Mon Dieu! Ces Anglaises!" exclaimed the artist, imitating with comical accuracy the tone and gesture of a Frenchman. "Well, to tell you the truth, Miss Norman, I was more than half prepared for this, and I had considered the contingency. Probably if I proposed it to you, you would only too gladly consent to take up your abode in one of those savoury courts or alleys which abound in the Oriental clime. But in such a course I fancy I see something scarcely becoming Miss Norman's position. Indeed there might be some people so evil-disposed as to censure Miss Norman's guardian under such circumstances."
"I think it probable," returned Helen, smiling.
"Just so. Then it remains for me to think of some suitable habitation for you. You would, of course, think it desirable that Mrs. Cumberbatch should continue to live with you?"
Helen assented out of mere politeness, though it is needless to say she would gladly have dismissed Mrs. Cumberbatch from her sight for ever.
"Again, just so. Then, may I ask, Miss Norman, whether there is any quarter of London in which you would prefer me to look for a suitable house?"
"I have only one ground of choice," replied Helen. "It must be within easy access of the East End."
"So I imagined," replied her guardian, smiling sardonically. "Then you permit me to be your agent in this matter?"
"I shall feel grateful if you will undertake the trouble."
"No trouble whatever," replied Mr. Gresham, politely.
And so the conversation ended. When she reflected upon it, Helen could not but wonder at the easy manner in which Mr. Gresham relieved himself of the more tedious responsibilities of guardianship. It was evident that he had never seriously contemplated her accompanying him to France. There was something of refined selfishness in the whole arrangement; Helen perceived it, but it did not distress her. Indeed the prospect of living in a small house of her own was very delightful to her. Mrs. Cumberbatch was the only drawback, but she scarcely saw how it could be possible to relinquish that lady's chaperonage. With Mrs. Cumberbatch herself, meanwhile, Mr. Gresham had held a longer and more serious conversation. The aunt and nephew understood each other wonderfully well. Mr. Gresham knew that in Mrs. Cumberbatch he had someone on whom he could thoroughly rely, as long as he made it coincident with her own interest to be trustworthy. Among his instructions to her were strong injunctions that she should do her utmost to bring Helen more into society. The sooner the latter was comfortably married out of the way, the better for Mr. Gresham's ease, regard for which bade fair soon to monopolise the whole of that gentleman's attention.
The visit of her guardian and his guests had furnished a brief distraction from Helen's ordinary life; certainly no highly agreeable distraction, but still sufficient to give a momentary new current to her thoughts. The exercise of French conversation, which she had so long disused from lack of opportunity, was in itself pleasant, awakening all manner of strange bygone memories, wafting back to her, like a sweet perfume, the recollection of happier years. Then the anticipation of a pleasant change of abode at the year's end was useful in giving her fresh matter for reflection, and averting her mind from the perpetual brooding over sad thoughts which had long since begun to set its mark upon her face in pallid cheeks and dark circles around the eyes. But these sensations were not of an enduring nature. Scarcely had the strangers left the house, when her mind renewed the thread of its every-day reflections, and continued to spin out the sorrowful web of its existence as though the task had known no interruption.
In addition to the sadness caused by the gradual annihilation of too sanguine hopes as regarded her toils among the poor, Helen had begun to suffer from causes of a more personal nature, from pain which had its beginning and end in the circumstances of her own individual being. Though she had hitherto been rather wont to pride herself on the possession of a philosophical mind which was all in all to itself, finding in her studies, her reveries, and the reflections to which her everyday work gave rise, all sufficing sources of occupation, of late a sad conviction had been working its way into her heart that these were not enough, that her being suffered a lack of nourishment, and yearned for stronger food. Sad conviction indeed it was, for to Helen's mind it implied some loss of self-esteem, some perceptible falling away from the ideal life to which she had trained herself, some condescension to the weakness of less noble natures. The uneasy longing, which months ago had assumed no more definite shape than that of occasional depression bred of disappointment in her aims, had now grown to proportions far more formidable, and was every day assuming the character of a recognisable aspiration. She felt lonely. She knew not the sweet pleasure of possessing some true friend to whom she could impart the secret workings of her spirit, from whom she could look for quick, unfailing sympathy, and to whom in turn she could become the source of vivifying consolation. Mr. Heatherley, though in many things of great benefit to her, was not and could not be such a friend as this. Though standing on the common ground of universal charity, the impulse of each came from such entirely opposite quarters, the highest sympathies of each were so totally different in their natures, that the growth between them of anything resembling a perfect union of the spirit was never to be thought of. And yet Mr. Heatherley was the nearest friend that she possessed. All others were mere acquaintances. Living as she had always done in almost complete seclusion as far as the society of cultivated people was concerned, Helen had only once found herself in contact with a nature before which her own felt disposed to bow. Once and once only had a voice struck the chords of her heart and elicited what seemed to her like the barely perceptible prelude to a delicious harmony. It was possible she might have been mistaken; closer acquaintance might have dispelled this first illusion and rendered to her her freedom; but the chance of thus proving it had never been afforded her, for the object of her first timid heart-stirrings had suddenly vanished, and, what was more, in anger with herself. Yes; Arthur Golding's long-cherished worship was not without its counterpart, though struggling and undeveloped, in Helen's breast. Nor was it altogether unsuspected by its object, for Helen never forgot the circumstance of her own portrait so carefully separated, as if from less precious things, among Arthur's drawings. And now in these days of increasing trouble, when the yearning for individual fellowship seemed to be consuming her physical powers, the noble-minded girl dwelt more frequently than ever on the recollections which Arthur's name awakened. If the secret portraying of her face had meant anything more than a mere artist's fancy, did the feeling which had prompted it still live in the young man's heart? Frequently when she sat down to think of other things she found herself drifting away to thoughts of Arthur, wondering where he now lived, whether he still pursued the study of painting, whether he had changed in appearance? There had been a certain mystery in his sudden break with her guardian, the cause of which she felt convinced could not merely lie in that capricious temper to which Mr. Gresham had referred it. The knowledge she had since gained of the latter's character induced her to believe that the fault had been more probably on his side than on that of his pupil, and the circumstance of Arthur's relinquishing the benefit of his legacy till he could legally claim it decidedly pointed to a loftiness of spirit which would be superior to petty irritations. She would very much have liked to ask her guardian whether he knew anything of Arthur, but delicacy forbade her doing so. She had half unconsciously begun to hope that, when the time came for the payment of the legacy, she could not but hear something more of the young artist; but with her knowledge of Mr. Gresham's plans came the certainty that this hope would be frustrated. Much better to expel these foolish fancies from her mind and strive to reconcile herself to her dread loneliness.
I said that Mr. Heatherley was Helen's only friend, but it will perhaps be remembered that I have previously, when speaking of Lucy Venning, intimated the growth between the latter and Miss Norman of an attachment very similar to real friendship. And indeed, though there was too little of mental equality in the case to furnish a basis for the highest reciprocal affection, the benefit derived from their strengthening relations to each other was not exclusively on the side of the least gifted. Lucy, it is true, looked up to Helen as to some superior being, listened with the attention of an admiring disciple to her lightest words, and doubtless profited much by her conversation. On the other hand, to talk with Lucy was a sweet refreshment to Helen's moral nature. The girl's heart was so frank, so joyous, so absolutely pure, the piety which ruled her every thought, word and action was so unaffected and genuine, that Helen was not unfrequently led to compare her own acquired refinement with Lucy's natural perfection and to feel that she was the loser by the comparison. In her examination of the depths of this limpid nature, Helen had long since arrived at its one and only secret, and in this secret, she had since fancied, lay the origin of much that was charming in Lucy. The reader already knows what this secret was. Wide as was the apparent distance between them, Mr. Heatherley had, without effort, and, indeed, unconsciously, obtained the complete conquest of the young girl's heart. He was all in all to her Long ago she had regarded him with no other feeling than the deepest reverence, due at once to his personal character and to the office which he filled. But as the clergyman's intimacy with her father had grown, and she saw more of his abundant charity, his unfailing kindness and gentleness of disposition his manly fortitude of character, she had insensibly cherished warmer feelings, and now she knew to her sorrow that she loved him. William Noble she respected and felt warmly for as a friend, but his entrance never caused her heart to leap and her face to blush as did that of Mr. Heatherley. She knew well the feeling with which William regarded her, and knew also that nothing would have pleased her father more than to see her his wife; and the consciousness that her heart was de voted to a hopeless affection, refusing to turn where prudence and filial love seemed alike to point to, often made her sad when her sadness could not be observed.
Helen had divined all this almost as soon as she had become sufficiently intimate with Lucy to visit occasionally at her house, and make the acquaintance of Mr. Venning. Lucy's talk to her was so frequently of Mr. Heatherley that she could not but suspect how matters stood, and one or two questions so put that Lucy could not foresee their purpose, soon completed the discovery. It grieved Helen that she could see no trace in the clergyman's conduct of his being aware of the girl's passion, to say nothing of in any way reciprocating it. It appeared to her that Lucy would make her friend an admirable wife; just such a wife, indeed, as a man in his position should desire. She knew that he placed more value on moral worth than on intellectual attainment, and also that he was enough 6f a Radical to altogether disregard Lucy's inferiority in social status. It seemed scarcely probable to her that Mr. Heatherley's affections were already engaged. What a pity it was that, perhaps owing to a mere lack of perception on his part, the possible happiness of two lives should be neglected.
One Saturday afternoon, very shortly after the departure of Mr. Gresham and his friends, Helen was oppressed by a fit of unusual despondency. At such times as these she felt her loneliness acutely, knowing how easily the looming clouds could have been dispersed by one word of earnest and affectionate sympathy. The causes of her melancholy were such as it was impossible to confess to any one with whom she was acquainted, if indeed she herself really knew them. As the afternoon drew on her sufferings grew intolerable. A horror of her solitude crept over her and became a physical pain. Company of some sort she felt she must seek. Mrs. Cumberbatch was out of the question, though doubtless she would have been ready enough to talk. Of only one person could she think with any degree of consolatory pleasure, and that was Lucy Venning. She would set off at once to Lucy's house, and pass there the few hours before the evening class.
Arrived at her destination, she knocked and was admitted by a maid-of-all-work occasionally employed in the house. On going into the parlour she found Mr. Venning and his daughter sitting side by side, the former with a somewhat grave expression of countenance, the latter's eyes showing unmistakable traces of recent tears. Both, however, rose at once upon her entrance, and Mr. Venning greeted her in his ordinary kind and unrestrained manner.
"This is kind of you to come this afternoon, Miss Norman," he said. "You couldn't have come at a better moment. Lucy has a little headache, and is a trifle out of spirits. I'm sure your voice will do her good at once; won't it, Lucy?"
His daughter only replied by a sweet smile and a cordial pressure of Helen's hand, which sufficiently bespoke her contentment.
"I am afraid I shall be a poor comforter," said Helen. "My very reason for coming was that I did not feel very well myself, and knew that half an hour's talk with Lucy would restore my spirits. Well, I see we must prescribe for each other, Lucy. I dare say the amusement of doing so will dispense with the necessity of any disagreeable medicine."
Lucy laughed, helping Helen the while to remove her hat and cloak. But there was still a dimness in her eyes, and her lips trembled slightly in a way which made her fearful of trusting her voice.
"I know you will excuse me, Miss Norman," said Mr. Venning. "Though it is Saturday evening I have still business to attend to. Never mind," he added with a quiet laugh. "Tomorrow is the day of rest. The thought of its enjoyment keeps me up all through the week. I often wonder what we working men should do without our Sunday."
As he spoke he withdrew from the parlour, and Helen took a seat by Lucy's side.
"Now let us open our budget of sorrows," she said. "I strongly suspect, Lucy, that yours will outweigh mine in dolefulness. You have been crying."
Lucy's frank nature was incapable of deceit even in trifles. She only paused for a moment before replying, then said, without raising her eyes --
"I have been low-spirited all day. I think it must be the heat, or -- or I don't know what."
"I think you must take a holiday to-night," said Helen. "You know Mr. Heatherley almost always comes to the class on Saturday. I'm sure he will be glad to take your work if he knows you are unwell; or, if he should not come, I shall have very little difficulty in managing by myself."
"Oh, no," interposed Lucy, lifting up an eager face, "indeed I would not stay away on any account. The headache is going away; it -- it has not been very much. I could not think of staying at home."
"Then you must promise me," said her friend, "to work a little less hard than usual. I'm sure I marvel at your patience sometimes when I see you working with those poor children as if your life depended on it."
"I do my best," replied the girl, "but I'm sure I don't know who wouldn't, with your example before them, Miss Norman. Mr. Heatherley often says that ----"
"Well, what does Mr. Heatherley say?" asked Helen, smiling, as Lucy suddenly stopped short, and became a little red.
"He says he never knew a more excellent teacher than yourself, Miss Norman," hastily returned Lucy, averting her face.
"Oh, Mr. Heatherley is only too ready to speak well of everyone, isn't he, Lucy? No doubt he says just as pleasant things of you."
Lucy shook her head slightly, still blushing, but made no reply. Helen watched her a few moments curiously. At length Lucy suddenly turned her face towards her companion with such a look of simplicity, wherein were blended sorrow, bashfulness and trust, that the latter was moved to take her hand and bend forward to her with an answering look, as if inviting confidence.
"Miss Norman," faltered Lucy, the tears glistening in her eyes, "may I ask you a question -- a -- a rather strange question?"
"Anything you like, Lucy."
"Did you ever think that I spoke too much of Mr. Heatherley?" This last word broken momentarily in the middle by a sob. "That I -- might -- might make people think by the way I spoke of him -- that I ----"
"Who has put such a thought into your mind, dear?" asked Helen, willing to relieve the blushing girl of the difficulty of completing her sentence.
"Father has talked to me very seriously this afternoon, Miss Norman," replied Lucy; "not unkindly, you know; he never does that; only very seriously. And I'm sure that all he says is for my own good. He says that I had better try to think and speak less of Mr. Heatherley. But I didn't know that I spoke very often about him, Miss Norman, indeed I didn't. Do you -- do you think I do?"
Helen did not reply immediately, but regarded her companion with a tender and compassionate smile.
"I see you think so, Miss Norman," said Lucy, speaking quickly, with downcast eyes. "Oh, how foolish I have been. But, indeed, father and you are mistaken. I -- I never thought of him in that way. At least," she added hurriedly, "I think I never did. I'm sure I never meant to be so foolish. Don't think the worse of me, Miss Norman. I will be very careful in future."
"Think the worse of you, Lucy?" returned Helen, pressing Lucy's little hand between her own. "But you have been guilty of nothing improper. You are naturally so quiet that I am sure you have not spoken so freely to anyone but your father and myself."
"Indeed I have not," broke in Lucy, eagerly. "You and father are the only people who hear me speak without fear just what I think."
"Then you do think much of Mr. Heatherley?" asked Helen, with rather a sad smile.
"It would be foolish and wrong to try to hide the truth from you, Miss Norman; you who have always shown me such great kindness. I have often thought of Mr. Heatherley, but I'm sure only as a kind friend. I could never forgive myself if I led you to believe anything else. But father is quite right in what he said, and I know that I should be acting foolishly and wrongly if I don't try to turn my thoughts quite away from him -- for a time, at least. I have already begun to do so, and I had no idea that it would be so much trouble. But it is my duty, and I shall have strength given me to perform it."
She ceased, and sat looking before her with the slightest shade of melancholy upon her features. Helen, who recognised in the simple girl's utterances kindred tones to those which for ever whispered in her own heart, felt herself drawn closer to Lucy by strong bonds of sympathy. There was consolation, too, in hearing her speak of her simple troubles, more than could have been found in any learned sermon and philosophical essay whatsoever. For a moment the thought arose that Lucy's untutored mind could not nourish such sufferings as those born in her own sophisticated imagination, and that therefore her pains were not so hard to struggle with; but this Helen's better sense at once rejected with scorn. The bitterness of yearnings never to be satisfied could be no less bitter to Lucy than to herself. If the former showed less of what she suffered it must be attributed to superior self-government rather than to any lack of sensibility.
After a silence of several minutes Helen spoke, using to her simple friend the same reasoning she had often applied to herself.
"You are right, dear," she said. "Every necessity in this world becomes a duty, and we must struggle to submit to it as best we may. And the best way to gain our own peace is never to lose hope. Though the path we have to tread may be painful enough at first, we must never cease to hope, never yield up the conviction that it will lead us to some great happiness. What that happiness may be we are often quite unable to foresee. If we begin to struggle against a selfish desire, never losing faith in the justice of our efforts, we may some day find in renunciation itself a greater happiness than the fulfilment of the desire could have brought us. Depend upon it, our happiness is seldom worked out in the way we expect it to be. Why this should be so, would puzzle much cleverer people than you and I, Lucy, to explain; we must just be content with knowing what usually happens and apply this experience to our own cases. Look back through your own life and reflect how many longings you have cherished, thinking their fulfilment at the time absolutely needful for your future happiness; and notice how many of them have resulted in disappointment which seemed at the time inexpressibly bitter, but which you can now smile and wonder at. They have all passed away, but not without leaving their effect upon you; no, not a word you speak, not a thought you think, is without some effect on your own nature. To be able to look back on these struggles and see their lessons is what we call wisdom, and those are the happiest who are able to apply this wisdom to their present guidance. You understand what I mean by this little sermon, Lucy?"
"Quite well," replied the girl, with a grateful look. "I believe I have been trying to think the same things myself, but they were not so clear to me as you have made them."
"Suffering is an excellent teacher," returned Helen, smiling sadly, "and to minds which face her honestly she teaches very much the same lessons."
Shortly after this, as the evening was drawing on, Lucy rose with a brighter face and prepared tea, at which her father joined them. And when at the chapel that night Mr. Heatherley shook hands with her in his ordinary kind way, Helen noticed that she replied to him with less embarrassment than of late; and sighed to think that her own counsels should have so much more weight with others than with herself.
The months passed quickly on. Mr. Gresham and his friends had returned from a highly delightful tour, which had embraced the finest scenery of England, Scotland and Ireland, and, after spending about a week in Portland Place, had all once more set off for Paris. By means of an agent, Mr. Gresham had already succeeded in finding a house for his ward and her protectress, Mrs. Cumberbatch. It was in the district of Highbury, and, though rather dreary-looking in the November twilight, would doubtless be a pretty place in summer time. It was one of those neat little villas of which such numbers have recently sprung up in districts immediately surrounding London, with a bow window on each side of the door, and in front a pleasant little garden, concealed from the road by high holly bushes. Owing to the latter circumstance, the villa had been christened "Holly Cottage," which name was tastefully carved on the stone pillars at either side of the gate. It was decided that the ladies should take up their residence here about the middle of December. Mr. Gresham had graciously undertaken to come over from Paris to superintend their removal.
One Saturday evening towards the end of November, Helen Norman had again called to spend an hour with Lucy, previous to their setting out together for the chapel. She was paler and thinner than she had been even a few months before, and, owing to the persistency with which she pursued her work, even in the worst weather, had contracted a severe cold, which at times rendered her almost speechless. Mr. Heatherley had frequently pressed upon her of late the necessity of her paying more attention to her health, but as yet had succeeded in obtaining little more than promises. The truth was that Helen was bound to be active. She dreaded shutting herself up in the house alone with Mrs. Cumberbatch, or even alone with her own thoughts, for these had become the more insufferable companion of the two. To renounce her daily work would, she well knew, be equivalent to succumbing under an attack of illness. Such a prospect presented itself to her in the guise of unknown terror. To lie day after day, alone and suffering -- no; rather work till she fell down in the street from mere exhaustion. The horror of such a fate would be considerably less than that of gradually wasting away in a sick room, haunted by the demon of ennui. Death, and speedy death, she felt could alone terminate such suffering as this would imply.
She had a special object in seeking Lucy's society this after noon. During the last few days a thought had ripened within her mind which had held out to her such a cheery gleam of consolation that she could lose no time in seeking to realise its promptings. When she and Lucy had taken their seats by the fire in the cheerful little parlour, she proceeded at once t communicate the main purpose of her visit.
"In a few weeks I am going to change my home, Lucy," she said.
Her companion looked up into her face with a startled expression.
"Indeed, Miss Norman!"
"Yes, I am going to have a little house of my own."
"You -- you are going to be married, Miss Norman!" faltered Lucy, looking a little frightened at her own boldness in suggesting such a possibility. And when she saw a smile of amused astonishment rise to Helen's face, followed at length by one of her cheerful laughs, she reddened, and stammered excuses.
"Married!" exclaimed Helen. "What have I done, Lucy, that you should be so ready to attribute such enormities to me? There, you have done no harm, dear. Do you think I am so foolish as to be offended at any word that your lips could speak? Should you like to see me married?"
"Yes, I should," replied Lucy, with a blush, after reflecting for a moment. "For I am sure you deserve as much happiness as it is possible for any one to have."
"And you think that marriage is the highest possible happiness?"
"I think -- perhaps -- I scarcely know," stammered Lucy, in some confusion. "But I often think that no woman can be so happy as she who has a good husband to devote her life to, never thinking of anything but how to please him, and being able to ask his advice in every difficulty or trouble. How quiet one's life must be, when one feels there is always some one close at hand to trust in, some one who can never lead you astray, but whose advice is always for the best."
"I am afraid there are few such husbands, Lucy. But haven't you your father for a guide?"
"Oh, yes, I love my father," replied Lucy, earnestly, "and have no greater pleasure than to obey him. But -- but a husband must be so different ----"
She broke off and satin silence, her eyes drooping somewhat sadly. Helen suppressed a sigh, and returned to the subject she had most in her mind.
"But I was speaking of my new home," she said. "I am going to live in a very delightful little house in Highbury. I shall not be quite by myself, for a lady I have known some time, and who is much older than myself, has kindly promised to come and keep house for me. But still I fear I shall be a little lonely through the winter. I have scarcely any friends in London, and even those I have will be a long way from me. Now I wanted to ask you, Lucy, whether you thought you could manage to come and live with me, to be a companion for me when I am at home. You cannot think how glad I should be if you could do so."
She paused and observed Lucy's face, the expression of which had passed from surprise to delight, and then again to surprise mingled with doubt. Such was the confusion introduced into her thoughts by this most unexpected proposition, that she was quite unable to reply at once.
"You are thinking of your father," continued Helen. "I know I should be robbing him of his greatest comfort, but I cannot help being selfish in this matter, Lucy. You could always spend Sunday with him, and also an evening or two in the week."
"But the house-work?" said Lucy, faltering between her delight at the proposal and the difficulties which stood in its way. "I am often afraid that father is not very comfortable as it is, for I have only the evenings and about an hour every morning to give to keeping our rooms in order. We have a girl in now and then to do rough work, but she couldn't get father's meals and keep his rooms neat."
"But suppose you found some better kind of servant to do that work?"
"I am afraid we are too poor for that," replied Lucy, simply.
"But if I took you away," replied Helen, "it would be only fair that I should provide some one in your place. So that we needn't trouble any more about that. Would you be willing to come to me, Lucy, if your father gave his consent?"
"It would make me very happy," replied the girl, sincerity speaking in her tone and look.
"Not more so than it would make me," said Helen, who really felt that with this single, child-hearted girl beside her she would be able to set at defiance the melancholy which so oppressed her. "You will see my library, then -- more books than you ever saw in your life, Lucy. And we will read together; and I will teach you to like the things that I like, and will teach you foreign languages. Won't it be delightful?"
"Oh, it is too good to be true," said Lucy, covering her face with her hands. Helen, too, became silent, but in happy visions of the delight she would find in training this pure intelligence and seeing that sweet character expand in her presence. Another thought there was in her mind, a thought which had not been quite without its influence in determining her to this step. Bent, as always, on the good of others, Helen had reflected that, if Lucy lived with her, Mr. Heatherley would have his attention more attracted to the girl's virtues; she would be able to talk more to him about her, and so to assist in some measure to render the termination of Lucy's secret love happier than at present seemed possible.
As they sat thus in silence only two sounds were audible in the room; the one was the crackling of the fire, the other was the unceasing tread of a footstep pacing backwards and forwards in the room above their heads. To the latter sound Helen's attention had already been once or twice directed, but now that it became still more observable she could not help wondering who it was that paced thus perpetually. She broke silence by asking the question.
"Oh," replied Lucy, looking up from her happy reverie, "that is Mr. Golding, a lodger we have in our spare room. He nearly always spends his evenings in walking up and down his room."
"What did you say his name is?" asked Helen, with an interest in her tone which surprised Lucy.
"Mr. Golding," she replied. "He is a printer. He has only just recovered from a bad illness, and I am afraid he is not quite well yet."
"He is a printer, you say?" continued Helen. "Do you know what his Christian name is, Lucy?"
Lucy looked up in some surprise.
"I really forget," she said; "but I can -- oh, I remember; his name in the rent book is A. Golding. I don't know what A. stands for."
"He is a young man?"
"Yes, quite young."
"And -- rather handsome, Lucy?"
"I think so," replied Lucy, smiling; "but his face is very pale, and he always looks sad. Whenever I see him I feel to pity him. I suppose it is his illness that makes him look so."
Helen's eyes had been fixed immutably on her companion's face since the latter had pronounced the lodger's name, and their expression had something in it of strange pleasure which added to Lucy's surprise. As she spoke of his illness, this expression changed to one of sympathy, and this continued now for several minutes, whilst neither spoke. Helen was gazing into the fire, and evidently listening to the footfall overhead.
"How long has he been here, Lucy?" she asked at length, speaking in a lower tone.
"About a fortnight," was the reply; and then she added, seeing Helen still much interested -- "He was recommended to us by a friend of ours who comes to see father now and then, Mr. Noble. Once, a long time ago, Mr. Noble brought him here on a Sunday night, and he had tea with us. He's very pleasant whenever he does speak, but that's very seldom. Once or twice we have asked him to come down and sit with us in the evening, but he has only consented once. Hush! he is coming down stairs. I heard his door open."
"I must see him, Lucy," whispered Helen, rising from her seat. "How can I see him and not be noticed? Stop, if I hear his voice it will be enough. Could you go out and speak to him? About anything. He is coming down stairs."
In the utmost astonishment, but eager to do anything to oblige Miss Norman, Lucy quickly left the room, leaving the door slightly ajar behind her, and, standing just outside it, she addressed to the lodger some question concerning his meals, which, in the morning and evening, she always prepared for him. Helen had stolen up close to the door, and heard distinctly the questions and replies. As soon as the lodger spoke she recognised Arthur's voice.
He went on and out of the house, and Helen, trembling in every limb, sank into the nearest chair. At first she felt angry with herself for her weakness, but the next moment a warm glow of pleasure had rushed over her whole body, driving away every other feeling. Then Lucy re-entered the room, and Helen, with a low laugh of joy, folded her in her arms and kissed her on the forehead. Lucy's face flushed with delight, but her eyes still retained their expression of astonishment. She feared, however, to make any remark, and resumed her seat in silence by the fire-side.
"It is as I thought," said Helen, speaking still in a very low voice, and fixing her eyes, which glowed with unusual brightness, upon her companion's wondering face; "I once knew Mr. Golding. Lucy, you say he passes the evening with you and your father sometimes?"
She replied in the affirmative.
"Do you think my name has ever been mentioned in his presence?"
"Yes, it has," replied Lucy. "Mr. Heatherley came in last Wednesday night, when Mr. Golding was with us, and he asked me if I did not think you looked very poorly, Miss Norman. And then he spoke for some minutes about your untiring patience."
"And Mr. Golding?" asked Helen, bending forward and taking Lucy's hand. "He said nothing?"
"I -- I think not," returned the other, fearful lest her answer should displease.
There was silence for some minutes, during which Helen still held Lucy's hand, playing with it now and then whilst varied emotions made themselves seen upon her features.
"What must you think of me, Lucy?" she asked at length. "No doubt you are quite at a loss to understand my strange behaviour. The truth is that Mr. Golding is an old acquaintance, in whom I have much interest. I have not seen him for more than a year, and had no idea where he was, so you may imagine my surprise when I heard you call your lodger by his name. Would you do me a kindness, something very difficult for me to do for myself, but easy for you to do for me?"
"I will do anything in my power for you, Miss Norman."
"Then it is this. When next you have an opportunity of speaking to him alone will you say, as if by chance, that I had heard of him from you, that I had recognised him as an acquaintance, and had made friendly inquiries with regard to him -- all this, you know, as if coming naturally from yourself? -- I wish him to know, in short, that I am aware of his being here. And I should like to know how he hears this, Lucy, with what expression of face, or what reply he makes. Are you artful enough to practise all this deceit, dear?"
"I think it will be a very harmless deceit," replied Lucy, with her customary naïveté. "I can easily find an opportunity to do this. Very likely I shall be able to bring you word next Tuesday night at the class."
"And you -- you will not say anything of this to your father, Lucy? It is only a foolish fancy. I can trust you, but others, who do not know me so well, might -- you know what I mean."
"Indeed, I will tell no one," replied Lucy earnestly, truth beaming from her wide blue eyes.
Helen smiled gratefully, and, drawing the girl towards her, pressed an affectionate kiss upon her lips.
On the following Tuesday night Helen was in the schoolroom rather earlier than usual. She had come in the hope of having a quarter of an hour's talk with Lucy before the lessons commenced, but in this she was disappointed, for Lucy, who usually made her appearance some time before eight o'clock, was late to-night. Helen's cold had increased severity during the last few days, and to-night she was scarcely able to speak. Prudence had urged her throughout the day to send a note to Mr. Heatherley, begging him to take her place that evening, but the temptation of the news she hoped to hear from Lucy was too strong and she had braved the night air. The girls were collecting in the white-walled school-room, each one curtseying as she entered, whilst Helen was looking over a number of dictation exercises, when Mr. Heatherley suddenly appeared, his face flushed with rapid walking, and a dripping umbrella in his hand. A look of pain and vexation crossed his face as he saw Helen sitting at his desk.
"How extremely imprudent of you, Miss Norman!" he said, pointing to the wrapper in which Helen had encircled her throat. "I certainly hoped you would have remained at home a day like this. In fact I made so sure you would, that I especially arranged to be able to take your class to-night. As I was on the way here I just stepped into Mrs. Hawley's, and imagine my horror when I heard that you had been walking about as usual all this morning. Poor Mrs. Hawley was in despair on your account. 'She's killing herself, Mr. Heatherley; she's killing herself!' -- that's all I could get from her. And, upon my word, I believe she's quite right. Now, Miss Norman, I beg you will go home at once, and let me take your place to-night."
"It is very kind of you to be so concerned on my account," replied Helen, in a voice but little above a whisper. "Indeed, if you can spare the time, I shall be very glad to have you take my class. I fear I could not make myself heard. But you must not send me away. This room is very warm and comfortable, I am sure."
As she spoke the clock in the chapel struck eight.
"Where is Miss Venning ?" asked the clergyman, looking round in a kind of despair. "I ought to have her to second my entreaties. I really believe she has been afraid to come out to-night."
"Oh no," replied Helen, quickly, "I am sure she will be here. She does not allow herself to be withheld from her work by a little rain."
The girls were all sitting in expectant silence at their desks, books open before them.
"We must not set an example of unpunctuality," said Mr. Heatherley, in a low voice. "I will begin the lesson, and leave further remonstrance till afterwards. In the meantime prepare yourself for severe things, Miss Norman."
Then he turned to the pupils, and spoke to them in that frank, friendly tone which made him liked wherever he went.
"Scholars," he said, "I shall have the pleasure of teaching you myself this evening. Miss Norman, I grieve to say, is suffering from such a severe cold that it is impossible for her to talk to you as usual. She has, however, too great an interest in you to stay away even under these circumstances. I trust you will appreciate the value of such a teacher and never fail to do your best to please her. I will take the first class to begin with. The second class will please to study quietly for the present."
When he ceased to speak of Helen, a murmur of approbation and sympathy had made itself heard in the room, and all eyes were turned with glances of pitying affection to the latter's face. At any other time Helen would have been profoundly moved by that manifestation of feeling, but at present she scarcely knew what was happening. Where was Lucy Venning? Why was she absent for the first time just when Helen wished especially to see her? In spite of herself, Helen had become the prey of an intolerable impatience to hear how the intelligence of her interest in him had been received by Arthur Golding. The impatience had been increasing ever since Saturday night. Reason was powerless against it. She endeavoured to impress upon herself that in all likelihood Arthur would hear of her with some surprise, and the next moment dismiss her from his mind. And why should it be otherwise? What special interest could she expect him to take in her? Nay, what was the explanation of this strange excitement which had continued to trouble her ever since she had listened for his voice and recognised it at the first tone? Two or three months ago she had never thought of him; why should she have all at once conceived this violent desire to see him once more, this eager longing to hear that her name was not altogether indifferent to him?
She had become so absorbed in these reflections that the sound of voices in the room had altogether died from her ears. But all at once a fresh voice spoke at her side, making her start nervously, whilst a flush covered her face. It was Lucy Venning, who had entered unseen by her.
"Good evening, Miss Norman," Lucy whispered. "I am so sorry I am late. Is your cold worse?"
"A little," whispered Helen hurriedly in return; then asked, with an eagerness she could not subdue, "Any news?"
"Yes," replied Lucy, meeting the other's look with eyes full of affectionate sympathy. "That is what made me late. I must tell you afterwards."
Then she quickly took her usual place and commenced the lesson of the second class.
It seemed many hours to Helen before the lessons were at an end. But at length the last copy-book had been closed, the last question asked and answered, and the last girl had curtseyed and disappeared. Then Mr. Heatherley once more turned his attention to her.
"Miss Venning," he said, looking at Lucy, who sank her eyes, "I must ask for your assistance here. Do come and help me to persuade Miss Norman to take a few days' rest. Promise us, Miss Norman, that you will at least exercise the ordinary prudence of remaining in-doors till your cold is better. Indeed, in my position of your director in the work you have undertaken, I must insist on your doing this."
"If you speak so authoritatively," replied Helen, smiling, "I have no alternative but to obey. Yet it distresses me unspeakably to think that at the very time when the poor need most assistance I should keep away from them."
"Just so," replied Mr. Heatherley, "but you appear to forget, Miss Norman, that it is better to lose a week now than to be laid up for several months during the winter. Your zeal blinds you to this self-evident truth. Pray, have you seen your physician?"
"I have scarcely thought it worth while to do so."
"Then, once more, I speak authoritatively, Miss Norman, and request you to do so without delay. These colds are often more serious things than one imagines. Will you permit me to call upon you -- say on Thursday morning, and inquire after your health?"
"I shall be very glad to see you, Mr. Heatherley," replied Helen, speaking, as she had done in reply to each question, with mechanical effort. She was burning with eagerness to be alone with Lucy.
They all three left the chapel together. It was raining hard, and bitterly cold. They walked in silence towards the railway station, Helen all the time distressing herself with the fear lest Mr. Heatherley would accompany her all the way there, as he frequently did, in which case she would have no opportunity of speaking with Lucy. But the latter also foresaw this, and, with an artfulness of which her simple nature could only be capable under the inspiration of her tender regard for Helen, obviated the difficulty. They had to pass her house on the way to the station, and, on arriving at it, she appeared suddenly to recollect something.
"Oh, Miss Norman," she exclaimed, "please to come in for a moment whilst I fetch the book you lent me. I finished it yesterday, and, as I shall not see you for some days, I should be sorry to keep it longer. Please to step in, too, Mr. Heatherley. Father is alone and will be glad to see you."
The clergyman was about to make some remark as to the lateness of the hour, but Lucy had already opened the door, and Helen was following her into the passage, so he was obliged to enter also. Lucy quickly introduced him into the parlour, where her father was sitting, in his usual brown study, and then she beckoned to Helen, who followed her upstairs. At the top of the stairs were two doors, from between the chinks of one light was evident. The other was Lucy's bedroom, and into this she led the way.
"I could think of no other way," said Lucy, laughing quietly at her own address. "We must speak very quietly, Mr. Golding is in his room."
Helen listened, and again she heard the steady footfall going up and down the floor in the next chamber. She seized Lucy's hand, and looked into her face expectantly.
"I found an opportunity," began Lucy, in a whisper, "on Sunday night. At first he didn't seem to understand exactly what I meant. No doubt it was my awkwardness; so I repeated to him what you wished him to know, of course making him understand that it was my own thought to mention it. Then he looked at me rather curiously, and said, 'Please to tell Miss Norman that I have heard of her inquiries, and that I am much obliged to her.' I think these were his words, and they were said very coldly, quite in a different way from his usual manner of speaking to me."
Helen suddenly relinquished the speaker's hand, and turned away her head. "Come, let us go, Lucy," she said, quickly. "I am sorry I troubled you about such a foolish matter."
"But that is not all," hastily added the other. "That was only the first time I saw him. But just as I was leaving the house to-night to go to the chapel, Mr. Golding met me in the street and asked me if I would let him walk a short distance with me, as he wished to ask me one or two questions. He spoke in a rather confused way, and I couldn't think what he meant; but, as it was raining, I asked him to return and speak to me in the parlour, for father was not at home. When we were in the room, he didn't seem quite able to begin at first, but when I asked him what he wished to know he said that his questions were about Miss Norman; would I mind telling him whether you had ever said anything about him except what he had already heard? I was rather put about for an answer, but at last I said that you had not. Was I right, Miss Norman?"
"Quite right," replied Helen, who was now listening eagerly again. "And then?"
"And then he asked me how you had spoken of him, whether you seemed sorry to hear that he had been ill, how you looked when you asked after him. Again I was troubled to know how to answer, but -- I hope I wasn't wrong, Miss Norman? I said that -- that you had spoken in a kind way, but you always did that of everyone, and that I felt sure you were very sorry to hear of his illness. I hope I didn't say more than was proper, Miss Norman?"
"Then he said he should very much like to see you."
"To see me?" broke in Helen, much surprised, and trembling slightly.
"Yes; but he spoke in a very respectful way. He wished to know whether I would tell you this, and ask if you would be willing to see him. There was something he very much wanted to speak to you about. He should consider it a great favour. And he spoke so earnestly that I'm sure he has some very good reason for asking it."
Helen became thoughtful, and, as she mused, a slight smile played fitfully about her lips. Still the footsteps in the next room paced backward and forwards unceasingly, and she even thought that she could hear something that resembled a deep sigh.
"Will you tell Mr. Golding," she said, all at once, "that I will expect him between six and seven to-morrow evening? But stay, is he free then?"
"He is always home at six."
"Very well; between six and seven then, in Portland Place. Will you tell him this, Lucy? And -- and will you say that I shall be quite alone?"
"I will let him know to-night," was the reply.
They passed down stairs again, and found Mr. Heatherley growing impatient. He insisted upon accompanying Helen to the station.
"But not a word on the way, Miss Norman," he said. "Please to cover your mouth up closely, and on no account to take off the scarf."
Helen laughed as she obeyed him, and they walked quickly the short distance which remained to the station. Neither spoke on the way, but Mr. Heatherley frequently glanced aside at his companion's face whenever the light from the shops or the street-lamps illumined it.
"On Thursday morning I shall take the liberty of calling upon you," he said as he shook hands at parting. "I beg you will see your physician in the interval, and on no account think of going out."
Helen had scarcely heard him, so much was her mind disturbed by what Lucy had told her. What could be Arthur's object in wishing to see her? This she was utterly unable to divine. Her mind was distracted by doubts as to whether she had done rightly in granting an interview. What must be Lucy Venning's thoughts of the singular mystery in which she had been made to play a part. Lucy evidently saw nothing shocking in the course her friend pursued, and her pure mind was a far better judge of propriety than all the conventionalities of a prurient society. But what kind of man was she about to receive? A year may effect a great change in character, and could she be certain that Arthur was still the high-minded youth he had appeared to her formerly? Of his life in the interval she was totally ignorant, and it might be that he had altered much for the worse. Yet that was an idea to which she could not reconcile herself. In the conversation between him and Lucy, which the latter had repeated, there seemed so much of his old manner; it was so clear that the boldness of his request was forced upon him by some exceptional need; no, she could not believe that he had deteriorated. And then came the thought of his suffering, the recollection of the monotonous footfall going to and fro, at which her heart warmed with womanly tenderness and pity. It was clear he was not happy, that he was suffering in mind as well as in body, and if indeed she could do anything to relieve him how gladly would she venture much more than a mere unusual tête-à-tête.
On reaching home she at once sought her own chamber. The excitement of the evening had brought on a severe headache, and this, combined with her cold, made her feel so ill that she was glad to extinguish the light and seek rest at once. It was some time before her thoughts would allow her to become sufficiently composed to sleep, and when at last her eyes closed it was only in a troubled slumber, broken by shapeless dreams. These at length assumed the form of a terrible nightmare, in which she seemed to be struggling for her life with some fearful monster which had encircled her throat and was stifling her. Just as the agony was becoming intolerable it awoke her. She was coughing with dreadful violence, each gasp causing her excruciating pain. When the fit came to an end, she reached her hand to the table which stood beside her bed, and struck a match. The little flame shot up, illuminating the hand that held it, but surely with a strange light. The colour of her fingers was blood-red. For a moment she thought her eyes were deceiving her, but then she felt something warm upon her lips. She wiped them with her other hand, and that too became red. Then she knew that it was really blood which she saw. The same moment the match went out between her fingers, and she shuddered with horror in the darkness.
All the next day Helen sat in her own room, at times reading a little, but for the most part sunk in reveries. Her cold appeared to be a little better, but her face wore a sicklier hue than on the previous day. The hands which lay crossed upon her lap seemed almost transparent in their pale delicacy, and only the pink tints of the nails gave evidence of warm life-blood. Had she made no promise to Mr. Heatherley, her physical weakness would have sufficed to hold her indoors to-day. To rise from her chair cost her a painful effort, and after crossing the room her limbs became as feebly tremulous as though she had but just risen from a long illness. As she reclined in her great chair, her hands folded before her, her eyes fixed with a gaze expressive of calm inward joy upon the glowing fire, which, in the shadowed room, often cast a faint rosy radiance upon her brow, and deepened into dark gold the richness of her brown hair, she much resembled some sweet and placid-faced Madonna gazing herself into beatific reverie before an infant Christ.
For her thoughts, as the day progressed, became calm and cheerful, engrossed in anticipation of the interview she was about to enjoy. Throughout the night and during the early hours of the day she had suffered much, and, instead of the present peace, an expression of trouble, at times even of anguish, had disturbed her countenance. After the dread waking from the nightmare she had scarcely closed her eyes, but had lain through the long silent hours struggling with a fearful spectre in her thoughts scarcely less terrible than that which had oppressed her dreams. The blood upon her hand and upon her lips she felt that she understood only too well; it brought back recollections of her father's last years, and reawakened in her a dread to which she had long ago been subject, but which her active life had recently dispelled from her mind. Her mother had died very early, if not of consumption, at all events from some trifling illness operating upon a most feeble constitution. Her father, as the reader knows, had struggled through long years with his impending fate, only keeping himself alive by the exercise of the most scrupulous precautions. Helen reflected again on these things during long hours of wakefulness, and the flickering night-light became to her the symbol of a miserable destiny. What if her life was fated to burn only during a few years of dark striving, of toiling in the gloom of misapplied efforts and fallacious hopes, and then, when at length the dawn began to break upon her, when she could see her path more clearly, and the certainty of progress had grown strong within her, should flicker, and droop, and become extinguished even as this night-light? In the dim radiance which kept her company during this night of suffering she saw pass by her bed the terrible forms of Disease, Despair and Death, and it seemed as though another ghostly shadow which had taken its place by her side whispered their names to her as they passed, and the name of the shadow itself was Fear. For hours she lay in a cold sweat, her soul writhing within her, her body prostrated as though already under the crushing hand of sickness; and only towards the morning did she once again sink into troubled slumber, to be still haunted by the same ghostly shapes. No wonder that she at length arose shattered and feeble, desiring nothing but to sit quietly throughout the day by the fire-side. The cup of coffee which had been brought her at breakfast-time remained beside her at noon, still untouched; then it was exchanged for a cup of tea, after drinking which the calm into which she had gradually been sinking became more perfect, and by degrees she forgot her fears in happy reverie.
As the time for Arthur's visit drew nigh, Helen paid some attention to her toilet, and descended to the library, where she had ordered a fire to be lighted. Into this room she knew Mrs. Cumberbatch very seldom came, and here she gave instructions that Arthur should be shown as soon as he arrived. Taking up a favourite book, she sat down by the fire-side, not to read -- for that was impossible -- but to subside into a state of calm preparation.
Exactly at the hour of seven, she heard the visitor's bell ring, down in the lower regions of the house, and she knew that he had arrived. She sat and listened. A servant passed quickly through the hall, the front-door opened, there was a momentary silence, and almost immediately a tap at the library-door. The servant announced --
Helen rose from her seat and advanced to meet him. Now that he was in her presence she had recovered all her self-command, and could even comment to herself upon his appearance. Certainly he was much altered; whether for the better or not it was difficult to say at once. He looked much older. His face was thinner, and bore traces of anxiety, if not of keener suffering. But his eyes still wore the same expression, were still alive with the bright glow of talent and enthusiasm. For the excitement of the visit had also animated Arthur, and just now he felt more like his old self than he had for a long time.
On Helen's part there was no air of condescension, no restraint, no sense of being engaged in anything unusual. When Arthur stood still and bent before her, she advanced yet a step, and held out her hand to him with the perfection of natural grace. He took it, and held it for a moment, gazing into her face with a look before which her eyes fell. Then she pointed in silence to a chair, and herself became seated.
Neither had given utterance to a word of common-place greeting or politeness, for each felt that the meeting was one which would be fruitful in consequences to them both. As soon as they were seated, Helen looked towards Arthur with a smile of expectation. But she saw the same moment that he was under the influence of feelings which would not allow him to speak at once, and she resolved to relieve his embarrassment.
"My friend, Miss Venning," she said, "told me you had expressed a wish to see me, Mr. Golding. I am sorry that you should have hesitated so long before paying me a visit."
"I was not quite certain, Miss Norman," he replied, reassured completely by her quiet, friendly tone, "whether you would permit me to speak to you if I came. I feared you were offended at the abruptness with which I quitted Mr. Gresham's studio a year ago."
"Had you any reason to think I was offended?" asked Helen, after a moment's reflection, her tone being one of simple inquiry.
Arthur hesitated for an instant, raised his face as if to make a confession, but apparently altered his purpose, and spoke in his previous respectful tone.
"No reason," he replied, "except the consciousness that my behaviour must have appeared strange and even rude to you." Then, after slightly pausing, he added, in a lower voice, "I had no means of knowing how my absence was explained to you, or, indeed, whether it was explained at all. Possibly it is presumptuous in me to think you ever cared to ask the reason."
An expression of surprise rose to Helen's face as she listened, frank surprise which she did not in the least try to conceal. Arthur's eye caught the look, for a moment they gazed at each other without speaking.
"I am quite unable to understand what you have just said, Mr. Golding," said Helen at length, a touch of pain making itself evident in her tone. "Your memory must be strangely unretentive. Could I have given better evidence of my being concerned at your sudden departure than by coming to enquire for you?"
It was Arthur's turn to look surprised, and he appeared even more so than Helen had previously been. For some moments he struggled desperately with his memory in the endeavour to disclose any possible explanation for her words. Helen saw that his astonishment was sincere, and smiled as she again spoke.
"When you spoke of my being offended, I certainly thought you could only refer to one circumstance. Can you recall no occasion on which you behaved to me with what I will call severity? I do not use the word impoliteness, for I am sure you were labouring under some strange mistake, as well as suffering from affliction."
"If you refer," replied Arthur, "to something that happened after Mr. Tollady's death, I am quite unable to understand you, Miss Norman."
"You were not aware that I called at the shop immediately after Mr. Tollady's burial, and was informed that you declined to see me?"
Arthur started to his feet.
"Who told you so?" he cried; but, at once recollecting himself, he resumed his seat, and added, "I beg your pardon, Miss Norman. I am so astonished at what you tell me that I forget myself. May I ask who behaved so rudely in my name? Do you remember ----"
He ceased suddenly, for he remembered it could be but one person, and before Helen could reply, he had solved the mystery in his own mind.
"It was a tall, strange-looking man," he added, eagerly; "a man with a red stain on one of his cheeks, was it not, Miss Norman?"
"It was," she replied. "I remember him distinctly. Indeed, at the time I thought him mad."
"And such he doubtless was," returned the young man. "He has since died -- a maniac."
He became silent, for the solution of the doubt which had so long weighed upon his mind, imparted to his thoughts an activity which wholly occupied him.
"And am I to understand," asked Helen, "that this man spoke without authority from you?"
"Entirely so," returned Arthur, suddenly looking up.
"But that is very extraordinary," said Helen, looking up keenly into her visitor's face. "What could be the reason of his putting such words into your mouth?"
"Upon my word, Miss Norman," exclaimed Arthur, returning her gaze with unflinching candour, "strange as it appears to you, it is true. Till this moment I knew nothing of your visit. You will think me presumptuous when I confess it, but for several days after Mr. Tollady's sudden death I hoped that you might -- that your interest in him might induce you to -- visit the shop, as you had frequently done, and make some inquiry with regard to him. I hoped you might do so, for I could not help thinking that all who knew Mr. Tollady must be as much afflicted by his death as I was myself. But when a whole week had gone by, and I still thought you had not called, I was forced to conclude that I had been foolish in attributing to you feelings with which you had no concern. Or, as I sometimes feared, Mr. Gresham had so represented the reason of my quitting him, that you did not think it consistent with -- with your dignity to visit the house in which I lived."
"If you knew me better, Mr. Golding," replied Helen, smiling, "you would know that I held in very little esteem that conventional dignity which you hesitate to express. I'm sure I don't know whether it would have been dignified in me to keep away when I heard of Mr. Tollady's death, but it would certainly have been unfeeling. The fact is, I came to visit Mr. Tollady himself, so little did I know of what had happened, and it was after I had learnt it from the strange man in the shop that I asked to see you, and received the answer you know. Then, perhaps," she added, smiling, "some question of dignity did act to prevent me repeating my visit, which I was naturally persuaded would be useless."
A silence ensued, during which both were deeply occupied with their thoughts. Arthur was the first to look up and speak.
"I am not as well acquainted as I should like to be, Miss Norman, with the ways of the society in which you live, and possibly you may regard the question which I ask as grossly rude. If it is so, I hope you will not hesitate to tell me. Might I ask how Mr. Gresham explained to you my sudden departure from his studio?"
"It is your right to know," replied Helen. "Mr. Gresham spoke of your action as one which had more of folly in it than of any more serious fault. He said that your capricious temper rendered you incapable of receiving instruction, and that some slight reproof which he addressed to you on some occasion when you deserved it, led to your going off in anger, and writing him the rude letter which terminated the connection between you. Excuse the freedom of my expressions. I repeat, as nearly as I can remember, the words Mr. Gresham used."
Arthur was silent for some minutes from extreme indignation. When he looked up he saw that Helen continued to watch him.
"Will you permit me, Miss Norman," he asked, restraining himself to speak as calmly as possible, "to tell you my view of this matter, to tell you, in short, the truth?"
Helen lowered her eyes before the emphasis of the last word. "That is also your right," she answered quietly. "I beg you will do so."
"Then, Miss Norman," resumed Arthur, with energy, "as I value your good opinion above anything in this world, but could not stoop to possess myself of it under false pretences any more than I could rob you of a sum of money, I declare that there is not one word of truth in what you were told, and what, no doubt, you have hitherto believed. I do not think my temper is capricious, and I certainly never behaved to Mr. Gresham otherwise than with the utmost respect. As to receiving his instruction impatiently, I could not value it highly enough, and listened with the utmost attention to every word he spoke to me. Notwithstanding this, Mr. Gresham all at once began to treat me with the most unaccountable coldness, and then even with harshness. I do not hesitate to affirm that he was unpardonably rude in his manner towards me. I respectfully asked an explanation, but it was haughtily refused. That same day, on returning home, I found Mr. Tollady evidently ill, and suffering in mind as much as in body. With great difficulty I succeeded in persuading him to tell me the cause of his depression, which I had observed for a long time, and then I found that necessity had compelled him to mortgage his house under peculiar circumstances, that the time had come for the repayment of the money, and that, as he was quite unable to meet the debt, he saw no alternative but giving up the house. In my distress I would have done anything to spare Mr. Tollady this suffering. Without a thought I came to Mr. Gresham and begged he would advance me out of my legacy the sum necessary to pay off this debt. He replied that it was impossible to do so, and almost taunted me with the fact that he had already supplied me with money before he was legally obliged to do so. I bore with this indignity, and begged he would lend Mr. Tollady the money on his own account, for pure pity's sake. This he altogether refused to do, and at once dismissed me with the utmost harshness. I returned home, and, even now I recall it with irrepressible horror -- I found Mr. Tollady dead in his chair. The very next day I wrote a letter to Mr. Gresham, acquainting him with what had happened, and saying, in words which I am sure had nothing of impertinence, that, under the circumstances, I could not continue to receive any kind of favour from him. This is the true story, Miss Norman, strange as it may seem. To this day I cannot account for Mr. Gresham's changed manner towards me, but I am perfectly sure that he wished to bring about the end which actually arrived, and drive me away from him."
As the narrative progressed, Helen sat with her eyes fixed upon the carpet, and once or twice a passing glow had manifested itself in her pale cheeks. A veil seemed to be removed from her eyes by Arthur's story, and, strange as Mr. Gresham's conduct might appear to the latter, she had no longer any doubt as to the interpretation of it. She remembered her guardian forbidding her to speak to Arthur Golding, and she completely recalled his tone and manner on that occasion, which at the time had puzzled her. She could no longer hesitate to recognise jealousy as the cause of his conduct towards Arthur, and, strange to say, she felt a hot glow of pleasure fill her veins as the certainty forced itself upon her. When Arthur ceased to speak, she did not at once reply, but the former could see in her face that she was convinced of the truth of his story, and that she was not displeased at hearing it.
"It was very unfortunate," she said, at length, without looking up. "Evidently there was some strange misunderstanding between yourself and Mr. Gresham. I cannot comprehend it at all. But," she added, as if to get rid of an unpleasant subject, "was this explanation the object of your visit, Mr. Golding?"
"Not the main object," replied Arthur, his voice expressing doubt and hesitation, "though I certainly had hoped to be permitted this justification of my conduct. My desire to see you was caused by -- by circumstances and feelings which I now scarcely know how to describe to you. Indeed it would take me long to do so, I should be obliged to go over almost the whole story of my life. But do not be afraid, Miss Norman," he added with a smile, misinterpreting a look which passed over Helen's face. "I feel deeply your goodness in giving me this opportunity of freeing myself from disagreeable suspicions; I shall not inflict upon you any more of my troublesome confessions. Once more permit me to thank you earnestly for your goodness."
He rose as he spoke. Helen rose also, but not with the intention of saying farewell.
"You have said that you are not much acquainted with social forms," she said, with a smile whose sweetness thrilled through Arthur's frame, "so you will not be offended at my venturing to instruct you. It is certainly not in accordance with etiquette to request an interview, and terminate it with a polite evasion of the object for which the interview was granted. Pray take your seat again, Mr. Golding."
Arthur gazed at the speaker's pale loveliness till he felt his senses becoming confused and his power of thought fading in a delicious dream. He spoke at length with hardly more consciousness of what he was saying than if his words had been uttered under the influence of some powerful drug.
"Will it indeed interest you, Miss Norman, to hear of my sufferings? Shall I not be intruding on your leisure? May I venture to speak freely before you? In your presence all my courage has left me. I can scarcely conceive it possible that you would deign to listen patiently to my doubts, and to give me the advice which I need."
"And I, for my part, Mr. Golding," replied Helen, her face aglow with pleasure, "can scarcely conceive that you should think it worth while to consult me on any important point. It is you who do me honour. I beg you will not hesitate to speak with the utmost freedom. You can say nothing that will not interest me -- deeply."
She added the last word after a pause for breath, occasioned by the inward excitement which she, no less than Arthur, was struggling with, and, as she said it, she sank again upon her chair. Arthur, too, again became seated, his eyes still fixed on Helen. In this moment he knew for the first time the real nature and extent of the feelings her image had created in him. No thought of violated faith came to disturb his inward rapture. He knew that he had never loved before now, and the voice of nature was louder in his heart than that of violated social laws.
"Then I will indeed speak freely," he said, "and for once in my life I will disclose the depths of my nature to one capable of understanding what they contain. It is nothing dreadful or shocking that I shall try to disclose to you, Miss Norman, but merely a conflict which has been going on in my own mind for many years, and which was perhaps never fiercer than at present. To you it will perhaps seem trivial, you may smile at the earnestness with which I speak of so slight a matter; but the peace of my life is at stake, and to me that is not unimportant."
And he forthwith proceeded to relate, in simple yet eloquent words, the story of his life from the day on which he had escaped from Bloomford Rectory, dwelling more, however, upon his inward experience than on external events. He spoke of his early struggles, aspirations, sufferings; and showed how, amid them all, there had grown up within his being that passion for art which had been his incentive in discouragement, his glory in calmer days. Then he passed to his connection with Mr. Tollady, and told how the latter had striven to make an artist of him, yet how, at the same time, the good man's daily teachings and example had awakened in him a burning spirit of philanthropy, which, exaggerated by subsequent circumstances, ended by crushing the artistic impulses and throwing scorn upon them, as an unworthy growth. He explained to his listener how he had suffered in the contest between these two passions, his doubts, his agonies, his vain desire to reconcile their co-existence. Of his connection with Carrie he spoke not a word, and did no more than hint at the period of suffering and deprivation which had ensued upon it. Yet the recollection of it all was ever present in his mind, and gave fire to his utterances. Before proceeding to detail the latest phase of his self-questionings, he paused as if to collect his thoughts, and in the pause Helen spoke.
"I wonder whether I am clairvoyant enough to divine what remains," she said. "Shall I try?"
"I have faith in your skill, Miss Norman," replied Arthur, with a sigh of relief, meeting her kind and sympathetic look.
"What you are going to tell me, then, amounts to this. Your democratic furor has in time burnt itself out, and you feel distressed at your lack of stability. Is it not so?"
"And moreover -- I hope I may be right -- the old love of art has once more grown strong within you, and you are in doubt whether you ought to harbour it."
"I am flattered at the accuracy with which you guess my thoughts."
"And can you doubt for a moment, Mr. Golding," asked Helen, earnestly, "what course you ought to pursue? Has not the struggle in your mind now received as decisive a termination as it is capable of? Is it not as clear to you as daylight that the artist's instinct has prevailed, that it would be a sin against your nature to seek once more to destroy it?"
Arthur kept silence. His eyes were fixed sadly upon the fire, and a deep sigh escaped from his bosom. Helen watched him unceasingly, and her cheeks glowed with the emotions of her heart.
"Have you resumed your painting?" she asked at length.
"I have not touched a pencil for more than a year."
"But you feel a passionate desire to recommence? You feel all your old aspirations stronger than ever? You feel that there can be no real happiness for you save in a life devoted to art?"
Arthur suddenly looked up, and Helen fancied that it was moisture which made his eye gleam so brightly.
"All this I feel," he exclaimed, "but I cannot convince myself that I do right in yielding. When I think of giving up my daily work and living a life of ease -- study though I may call it -- it seems as though I were committing a sin, as though I were scorning these thousands of poor wretches who cry ceaselessly for sympathy and aid. Remember, Miss Norman, that I have been one of them, and that I can realise this misery so well! I will confess that I did not expect you to counsel me for this selfish life, a life that can at the best only give pleasure to myself and a few rich people who care for art. I have a friend who has consecrated his life to labour in the cause of the poor. I have told him what I have to-night told you, and he has urged me strongly to strive against this fondness for art. He wishes me to use my money to establish a Radical paper, to join him in such efforts as men of our position can make to show the people their wrongs and the methods of righting them. He believes that we can do much, for he is enthusiastic, like myself, but far more stable."
He had risen in the excitement of speaking. Helen likewise rose, and drew nearer to him when he ceased.
"What made you think of coming to ask my advice, Mr. Golding?" she enquired, regarding him with a seriousness which rendered her sweet face irresistible. "It is so long since we saw each other that I almost wonder you have remembered me. Could you think my advice worthy of consideration after that of your friend -- the advice of one with whom you are so slightly acquainted, of whose character and thoughts you know so little?"
"You do well to reprove me, Miss Norman," replied Arthur, turning slightly away. "It was unpardonable boldness in me to request this interview at all. You do, indeed, know too little of me ----"
"Mr. Golding," interrupted Helen, "you invert what I said, and distort my meaning. After what you have related to me to-night, I flatter myself that I have sufficient insight into your character to venture upon advice, if it is asked. But why have you such confidence in me? Why do you think it probable that my advice may be of use to you?"
"I think so, Miss Norman," exclaimed Arthur, "because from the first moment that I saw you I have regarded you with the deepest respect. At first I respected you in obedience to an instinct, but later I came to know you in some degree, and to find solid grounds for my feeling. I know that you are an exception to the class to which you belong, an exception even to mankind in general. You sacrifice willingly that ease and luxury which wealth might provide for you, and make it your chief work to aid and to instruct the poor. Since I have lived at Mr. Venning's your name has been constantly in my ears, and always associated with such praises as few can deserve. Is it not most natural that I should come to you to be confirmed in the path which you yourself choose to follow?"
There was silence for a few moments, during which Helen's eyes were fixed on the ground. At length she spoke, looking into Arthur's face with frank simplicity.
"Will you consent to do as I advise?" she asked. "May I consider my word as final?"
"You may!" exclaimed Arthur, every nerve thrilling to the almost tenderness of her tone. "Whatever you say I will do! Whatever you say must be right!"
"Then," replied Helen, whilst her cheeks flushed, and her whole noble form seemed magnified by her emotion, "I bid you give yourself henceforth solely to art, for you are born to be an artist. The feelings of infinite compassion for the poor which work so strongly in your mind are most natural, but you must not allow them to lead you astray. Every high-minded man feels the same, in a modified form; the circumstances of your life have brought them into special prominence and occasioned the inward struggle you speak of. The example of your enthusiastic friend and of myself can be no law to you. Your friend, from what you say of him, is doubtless as evidently born for active work as you are for art; and for myself, I am merely distinguished from the crowd by the possession of money, and if I did not follow this sole road of usefulness which is open to me I should indeed be a wretched creature. You are different from both of us, for from what you tell me, and from what I have myself seen of your work, I am convinced that nature has gifted you with genius. Such a gift carries with it grave responsibilities. That you should have been tempted to consider the artist's work as trivial and useless, I can understand; it was owing to peculiar circumstances acting upon a peculiar nature. But it is now time that you saw your error. We who toil on from day to day doing our little best to lessen the sum of the world's misery are doing good work, it cannot be denied; but what is this compared with the labour of men of genius, labour the result of which stands as mile-stones on the highway of civilization, each one marking a great and appreciable advance? Do you think it is to the benevolent monks of the Christian church, to the army of unknown philanthropists toiling through ages, to the host of men who have struggled throughout history for justice and freedom, that the highest praise is due for our high state of civilisation? These have only followed the spirit of the age; that spirit itself was created by the great men whose works, howsoever performed, direct the history of the world. Without the works of a Raphael our civilisation could not have been what it now is. You say that a beautiful picture only pleases its painter and a few rich dilettanti. In appearance it may do no more, but in reality its spirit permeates every layer of society. Like the lump of leaven in the old parable, it ultimately leavens the whole mass. I often read in the papers speeches by men who ought to know better, insisting on the necessity of what they call the useful, from which term they generally exclude everything which cannot be of immediate use to their own narrow natures. But nothing in this world is more useful than the beautiful, nothing works so powerfully for the ultimate benefit of mankind. Think of Mr. Tollady, whom you justly admire so much. You say that he never checked you in your passion for art, but that rather he urged you on to the utmost. Certainly he was not deficient in sympathy with the poor and with those who endeavour to benefit them. I am sure he would have spoken much as I have done, and have said that in becoming a pure artist you would do far more to advance the ends he had in view than by wearing away your life in petty efforts to do immediate good. Genius has always had, and always will have, laws to itself, laws not applicable to the mass of mankind. If you disobey this natural inclination of yours, you will some day bitterly regret it, when it is too late."
A long silence ensued, during which Arthur reflected, and Helen kept her eyes fixed upon his face. She saw that she had moved him, that his countenance expressed joy as her eager words fell upon his ear, and now she waited till he should make known his resolve. At length he raised his eyes slowly to those which were regarding him, and the bright radiance of his look showed the feelings which had been excited in his breast.
"I promised to obey you," he said, "and you might have merely commanded. As it is, you have convinced instead. I shall not endeavour to thank you, Miss Norman; spoken thanks are only a fit return for slight benefits. I hope my life will prove my gratitude."
"You will begin to work at once?" asked Helen, joyfully.
"At once. For some months I must, of course, continue to support myself by my work during the day. But every spare hour shall be given to drawing."
He made a motion as though in preparation to depart. Helen's brow had contracted as he spoke, as though a sudden thought crossed her mind. For a moment she seemed about to speak, but hesitated; then made up her mind, and said --
"You have done me a kindness, Mr. Golding, in accepting my advice; it is only fair that you should let me do something in return. You know that I am rich. Indeed I have so much money that I scarcely know what to do with it; for, though I am still a ward," she added, smiling, "my guardian permits me to act as though I were already my own mistress. Will you permit me to lend you some of my superfluity, what you think necessary to enable you to give yourself entirely to study till you obtain possession of your own? Indeed it would be a kindness to me to let me do so," she continued, quietly, noticing the expression of his face. "It would be such a pleasure for me to know that my money was being of real use! Some day you will be rich, and then you shall repay me."
As she stood looking up into Arthur's smiling face, her own features suffused with a warm glow, half resulting from the consciousness of doing rather a bold thing, half from the eagerness with which she hoped that her offer would be accepted, her beauty was so maddening that the young man afterwards wondered in himself that he had not fallen prostrate at her feet and given vent to his anguish of emotion in a passionate declaration of love. As it was, he stood for more than a minute in a state much resembling the ecstasy of the old saints, feeding his soul upon her loveliness. At length he saw her eyes droop and her cheeks burn before his passionate gaze, and the change recalled him to himself. He spoke in a very low voice, which yet seemed to him to break too rudely the rapturous silence of the room.
"Miss Norman, you are goodness itself. How I have deserved all your kindness, I cannot tell; I can only be conscious of the happiness it causes me. But you have already laden me with benefits, for every one of your encouraging words has been worth more to me than gold. You have restored my peace of mind, and have given me an impulse to labour which will not fail as long as my life lasts. More than this I must not accept from you. I should be unjust to myself if I did so, for I should be depressed with the sense of obligations which I could never hope to discharge. It is far better that I should work under difficulties for a short time; too great prosperity might spoil me."
"I am disappointed," returned Helen, seeing in his face that it was useless to persist, "though I appreciate your energy. It is such a natural thing that money which is lying useless should be entrusted to those who can put it to a good purpose: I should not be conferring an obligation on you, but merely performing a duty."
"I have no thanks to express my gratitude," replied Arthur. "Though I cannot accept this kindness, may I beg you to grant me another in its stead? Will you permit me, Miss Norman, to show you now and then the results of my work? If I complete a drawing or a picture which I think worthy of being shown to you, will you allow me to ask for your judgment upon it? You have inspired me with more enthusiasm than I have ever yet felt, and I know of no better way than this in which to prove my enduring recollection of your goodness."
"You grant unasked what I was about to beg as a favour," replied Helen. "I suppose you will continue to live with the Vennings? I frequently call to spend an hour with Lucy, and so I shall have many opportunities of seeing your work."
Fearful of saying too much, Helen limited herself to this. She said nothing of her approaching change of residence, thinking it most likely that he would hear of it from the Vennings, when her own proposal with regard to Lucy was discussed. But in her heart she thought with delight of the future, which this one evening had made golden before her imagination. As Arthur took his leave she gave him her hand, and the light touch of his fingers, which she had not dared to press, thrilled through her with a sensation so acute that it resembled pain.
One night, close upon the end of the year, a number of young men were standing at the bar in a restaurant of no great repute not far from Leicester Square, delighting their souls with congenial chat. One or two had before them glasses of suspicious-looking wines, others were content with more homely ale, and all soothed their spirits by luxuriant puffing at more or less evil-odoured cigars. Their talk was of the town, towny. One related to a couple of entranced listeners the story of a recent tête-à-tête enjoyed with some second-rate favourite of the ballet, his graphic rendering of certain passages -- more entertaining than polite -- being received with bursts of Homeric laughter by the youths who were drinking and smoking at his expense. Another group was listening to another conte moral, which had for its subject the exploits of a gentleman referred to as "Brandy Dick," the climax of whose practical witticisms seemed always to be reached in the Police Court. "Brandy Dick's" very latest piece of bravery proved to be of that nature usually referred to as "assault and battery," and, having been practised upon the person of a woman was, of course, worthy of more than ordinary applause. Deserting with regret the company of these humourists, we must pay more particular attention to a third group, consisting of four young men of somewhat more staid demeanour. They were also occupied in smoking and drinking, and their faces bore the unmistakable traces of lax lives; but they evidently belonged to a higher grade in society than the other joyous spirits. Their talk was more earnest and in lower tones. Evidently they were engaged in going to the devil by a more decorous route than that pursued by the eulogists of "Brandy Dick."
"Oh," exclaimed one, who wore a spruce chimney-pot and a white waistcoat, "in my opinion Fanny's played out. Drink plays the very devil with women; when once they begin they never know how to stop. She used to be something like a singer, but you should have heard her at the Alhambra last night. She was screwed to begin with, everybody could see that; and in the last act she was simply blazing drunk."
"Well, I'm sorry for Fan," drawled another of the quartette, turning round a diamond ring on his finger. "She's so devilish good-looking. I s'pose she'll have nothing else for it now but to take a turn at the poses plastiques. She'll always draw there."
"Now dash it, Jack," interposed the third, with frank directness of manner, "I always did say you were a mean devil! If I'd known Fan as well as you have, hang me if I wouldn't fork out a quid or two for her. I wonder she don't bother you more than she does; I would, in her place."
"Bother me more!" exclaimed Jack, with a curl of the lip. "Why it's a whole month since I had anything to do with her, and do you think it likely she remembers me? No, no; her acquaintances are too numerous for that."
The other three laughed quietly, with a refinement of cold-bloodedness which would have made a humane man shudder.
"Tell you what it is, you fellows," broke in the fourth, who had hitherto occupied himself in alternately sipping his wine and winking at the barmaids, "if Fan has a right to bother anyone, it's Whiffle. It's my belief," he added, lowering his voice, "that that girl has set Whiffle up in a good deal more tin than one 'ud like to mention. He's a rum devil, is Whiffle, and how he comes it over the girls as he does, beats me hollow! Why, there was Lily Parker, you know, the girl who did the cheeky business at the Strand! There was good stuff in Lily, let me tell you, and she was fast getting to be a favourite, but she got so spooney on Whiffle that she let him drain her of every penny she made. What's the result? She's kicking up her heels at one of the Music Halls for a shilling a night, and Whiffle 'ud see her hanged before he forked out a tanner for her."
"Aye," said the gentleman in the white waistcoat, after a moment's silence, "but I've a notion Whiffle has met his match." And he nodded his head, and winked one eye after the other, in an extremely knowing manner.
"Met his match?" asked the one called Jack. "What do you mean, Smales?"
Mr. Smales continued to smoke for a few moments, as if in disregard of the question, only removing his cigar from his lips to exclaim "How do, Polly?" to a woman who entered the restaurant by herself and sat down at one of the tables.
"I know well enough what he means," said the fourth gentleman, at length, also assuming a deep look. "Yes, I should decidedly say that Whiffle has found his match."
"What the deuce do you fellows mean?" cried Jack, waxing a trifle warm with impatience. "Why can't you tell it out at once without so much mystery?"
"Don't get excited, Jack," interposed Smales, with a smile. "Haven't you noticed that Whiffle has fought shy of the Argyle and the other places about here lately?"
"Why, yes. I wondered where the deuce he'd gone to."
"Well, he has a good reason," began Smales, when the one who appeared to share the mystery with him broke in like Marcellus in the ghost scene.
"Look!" he whispered. "Here she comes."
All eyes were turned to the doorway, when there entered a tall girl, showily dressed, with features of considerable beauty, but spoiled by thick daubs of paint applied to conceal the pallor of the cheeks. Her face wore a devil-may-care expression very attractive to those who were not induced to reflect upon its probable significance. Her eyes had that bleared, indistinct appearance so common in girls of the town, and her features afforded numerous indications of the ruin she was bringing upon her constitution by excessive drinking. By her air and dress she appeared to belong to the aristocracy of the demimonde. Her hair was of the colour of dark gold, a hue too rich to be natural, and hung in a long single plait down to her waist. As she entered she threw back a heavy paletôt, which the coldness of the night rendered necessary, and displayed a robe of dark blue silk, the front of which gave to view the curves of a magnificent throat and bosom. After one quick glance round the room, in which she appeared to recognise only one person, she walked straight to the table at which the woman, addressed as Polly, had seated herself, and, after exchanging a few whispers with her, also assumed a seat, demanding two glasses of sherry from a waiter who passed.
Our four friends followed her with glances expressing more or less open admiration.
"Damn me!" exclaimed Jack, in a whisper, "I've seen that girl everywhere lately, and I've often meant to ask some fellow who the devil she was. Now, Smales, out with this story of yours, and don't keep a chap so long waiting. Is that Whiffle's match?"
Mr. Smales replied by an affirmative wink.
"And what's more," he added, "I'll wager a thousand to one she's after him to-night."
"Ho, ho!" chuckled one of the others. "She sticks to his heels, does she? But, upon my word, she's a devilish fine girl!"
"Drinks like a fish!" put in Smales, with an expressive nod of the head. "Didn't you notice she lurched a little as she came in?"
"But who in the name of fate is she?" asked Jack.
"Don't know," replied Smales, "but I've a shrewd notion it was Whiffle who first got her into a scrape; and now I'll bet he'd give a little to be rid of her. She lived with him somewhere up Bayswater way for a month or two. Then, I've heard, she gave him the slip with some lord or other -- the devil knows who; and now she's just on the streets again."
"What's her name?"
"Carrie -- that's all I know. But just stop a minute, and I'll go and speak to Polly Hemp. If those two are up to something here, we may as well stop and see the fun."
So, trimming his hat, and pulling down his white waistcoat, Mr. Smales picked up his cane and sauntered towards the table at which the two girls were sitting. Leaning on the back of a chair he talked to them for some five minutes, during which his companions eyed him impatiently. Then he returned with a peculiar smile about his lips.
"Well?" exclaimed Jack.
"All right, old boy," returned the other. "It is as I thought. If we stay here a quarter of an hour longer we shall have a lark. You know Whiffle's strong at the cards; to tell you the truth, I think that's how he lives chiefly when he's no miserable devil of a girl to keep him. Well, Polly Hemp knows that, and she's promised to bring some deluded fool or other with lots of money to meet him here. But that's only a trick, do you see, to coax Whiffle out of his hole, so that Carrie may get hold of him. It seems Carrie's devilish hard up just now, and she's promised Polly so much out of every quid she gets from Whiffle. Good dodge, eh?"
The three laughed in a subdued chorus, then reflected for a moment upon the scene in preparation. All looked at their watches. It was eleven, and at a quarter past Mr. Augustus Whiffle was expected. It was necessary to find some new topic to pass away the intervening time, and this was introduced by the gentleman addressed as Jack.
"Been at the Eau de Vie, lately, Hawker?" he inquired of the most silent of the party; a consumptive-looking youth with a yellow tie and staring gloves to match.
"Was there the other night," replied Hawker, biting the end off a new cigar. Tremendous row. Jackson -- you know him, Smales; Billy Jackson, the big bully you used to meet in the city -- he found himself cheated at some game or other by Waghorn, so he got up and shouted out so that all in the room could hear him: 'You're an infernal cheat, Waghorn, and that's all you come here for.' Waghorn was a little screwed, and jumped out and yelled: 'And you're an infernal liar, Jackson, and it's not the first time I've told you so.' Then there was a scuffle, and Jackson knocked Waghorn down; the cleanest hit from the shoulder I've seen for many a day. My stars! It did me good!"
The others laughed heartily.
"That Waghorn's a rum fellow," put in Smales. "I could tell you a tale or two about him, and one particularly that Maggie Twill told me the other night at Evans's. You know Waghorn has a big house somewhere up Regent's Park way, and plays the nob when he's at home. I believe he's devilish rich, or at least was, for I should think wine and women must have made a pretty big hole in his pocket. Well, Maggie Twill and two or three other girls had been having supper with him at Evans's, and the end of it was, as usual, that Waghorn got pretty well screwed. So Maggie, who was in for a lark, asked him whether he wasn't going to take them all home with him, it would be so much better than his going home with one of them. And -- sure enough! -- at last they talked old Waghorn over into taking them all with him. So they squeezed into a cab and went off, and when they got to the old fool's house he showed them into his drawing-room, and brought out his best wine, and they all began to kick up an awful shindy. This was between one and two in the morning, mind. Well, just when the row had got to its height, and when old Waghorn, with his arm around two of the girls, was dancing round the room, suddenly the door opened, and Mrs. Waghorn made her appearance in a dressing-gown and with a wrapper round her. Maggie says her eyes flashed fire and she looked like the very devil. But she only waited for a minute, then slammed the door terrifically and disappeared. What a joke it must have been!"
The laughter which greeted this story was uproarious, but it was suddenly interrupted by the entrance of no less a person than Mr. Augustus Whiffle. All eyes turned rapidly from him to the table where the girls were sitting. Polly had faced round and was beckoning to the new-comer, but her companion was completely hidden behind a large newspaper she affected to be reading. With a nod to the assembled gentlemen, Augustus, whose "get up" was the perfection of dandyism, sauntered in the direction of the beckoning girl. As soon as he had reached the table, the newspaper which had concealed the other, fell, and his face paled slightly as he found himself before Carrie.
"Awfully sorry," said Polly, with a rather malicious grin. "I couldn't persuade the gentleman to come to-night, so I looked in with a lady friend of yours. I thought you'd, maybe, like to see her."
Whiffle leaned forward on the marble-topped table, with his back to the bar, as if conscious that so many eyes were watching him, and spoke to Carrie with suppressed anger.
"What do you want with me now?" he asked. "You'll gain nothing, you know, by making a scene here, so you might as well talk quietly."
"You know very well what I want," replied Carrie, tossing her head slightly, and avoiding his eye. "You owe me a five-pound note, and want to get out of paying it."
"Owe it you? For what?"
"Didn't you promise me a five-pound note when I left you and went to live with you know who? And didn't I promise you in return that I wouldn't ask you for any more money as long as I lived?"
"Promise you five pounds!" repeated Whiffle, with quiet scorn. "I never promised you anything at all -- except the lock-up if you come pestering me any more."
Those parts of Carrie's features which were not smeared with rouge turned deadly pale. Her eyes flashed terrible anger, and for a moment her fist clenched as though she would have struck him.
"You're a devil!" she hissed out, close to his face. "You've been a curse to me twice now. If it hadn't been for you I might have been a respectable girl still, and when I had a chance of going back to a quiet life you came and enticed me away again."
And she uttered curse after curse, in a tone clearly audible to the young men at the bar, who laughed aside with the utmost glee.
"Carrie, you're a ---- fool," replied Whiffle, endeavouring to appear calm. "If you're short of money you know how to get it, well enough, without sponging on me for it. Go to your husband and get it from him!"
Carrie's face now flushed a deep red, and for a moment she could not speak. A reply was on her lips when Polly Hemp, who had listened hitherto with a cool smile, broke in with an exclamation of surprise.
"Her husband! Why, I never knew as you was married, Carrie?"
"No more I am!" replied the girl, hoarse with passion. "No more I am! It's one of that devil's lies! He'll say anything to spite me, and to get out of paying what he owes me. I look much like a married woman, don't I, Polly?"
And she laughed, a bitter laugh at her own expense. Amid all the degradation of her broken life this terrible laugh was a proof that there still existed some fragments of a better nature. In reply to the laugh, Whiffle smiled, and winked at Polly.
"You may think you'll escape me," cried Carrie, seeing that the young man stood up as if to go, "and so you may do tonight. But I'll have the money out of you -- if I steal it. You don't mind stealing all I've got, and why shouldn't I take what I can? So look out! You may laugh, but if I dash this wineglass in your face you'll laugh in a different way."
Her excitement had risen so high that she spoke in a voice audible to everyone present. One or two waiters ran up to prevent an outbreak, and, whilst they were enjoining silence, Whiffle quietly turned and walked out of the restaurant. Carne and her companion shortly followed, the former replying with a glance of the haughtiest scorn to one young man who was so daring as to invite her to drink with him.
"What did he mean when he spoke of your husband, Carne?" asked Polly, as they issued together into the street.
"He meant a lie, I tell you!" replied Carrie, turning fiercely on her questioner. "Husband, indeed! What have I got to do with husbands! Perhaps you believe I'm a married woman with children, do you?"
"Well, well, don't look as though you'd eat me!" exclaimed the other, turning away her head with a laugh. "There's no harm in asking a question, I hope, is there?"
This Polly Hemp was as evil-looking a personage as one could encounter in the streets of London. Not that she was ugly in her features, for she had, indeed, what some would call a fine face. But it was the expression of this face which impressed the beholder more than its mere outlines, and that was wholly and absolutely evil. She had greenish eyes, out of which gleamed malice, and cunning, and lust, and every bad passion which could be imagined as lurking in a woman's heart. She had a habit of holding her lips slightly apart, so as to exhibit the remnants of a very fine set of teeth, which now had a fierce, resentful, tigerish air about them. In stature she was short, and rather stout. This woman could never have been other than evil-minded, but long years spent on the streets, and in all those nameless vicissitudes which, as a rule, render the prostitute's life mercifully brief, had reduced her to something far more akin to beast than man. Of iron constitution, she still, at the age of forty, showed no sign of yielding health, though she drank desperately, and had several times been almost killed in the fierce brawls which were her delight. Among Polly's numerous friends and acquaintances it was generally believed that she was saving money. Some said that she still looked forward to settling down to an old age of respectable comfort; and wits had been known to assert that she contemplated devoting her money to the erection of a church. In any case it is certain that, among Polly's endless passions, avarice was that which she most carefully nursed. To obtain money she would do anything, her unscrupulousness being only matched by her skill in avoiding discovery. Such a woman was a hopeful companion for Carrie.
The two sauntered along side by side through some of the back streets of Soho. Carrie was gloomy, and but little disposed for conversation; but her companion seemed especially talkative.
"And what's to be done now?" she asked, stopping by a public-house at a street corner.
"What do you mean?" replied Carrie, carelessly.
"Where's tin to be got?"
"I don't care if I never get it," returned the other, humming a tune under her breath.
"Don't you? But I do, I can tell you. You seem to forget as you owe me three weeks board and lodging. Why don't you look out for money like the other girls do?"
"Never mind what I do and what I don't do," replied Carne, impatiently. "You'll get your money some day, if I have to go and steal it, and that ought to be enough."
"Well, well; there's no call to have a row over a few pounds, is there?" rejoined Polly, looking askance at her companion. "Come, it's near closing time. What are you going to drink, Carrie?"
The girl appeared to hesitate for a moment, but her own pockets were empty and the temptation was irresistible. She followed her evil genius into the gin-palace and they mingled with a thick crowd which was clustering about the bar, all eagerly swallowing as much as they could before the place closed.
Polly had called out in a stentorian voice for "two brandies hot," and had turned to talk to an acquaintance who stood near, when Carrie, who heeded nothing that was going on around, was suddenly startled by having her arm grasped. A half-drunken woman was standing by her side, calling to her by name and asking her to drink.
"Don't you know me?" hiccoughed the woman. "You're too proud to come an see me an my daughters now-a-days, I reckon? Why don't you come an' drink a quiet glass like as you used to, eh?"
After some little difficulty Carrie recognised the speaker as her old landlady, Mrs. Pole. Seeing that the latter had no command over herself, and fearing lest some reference to her husband should catch Polly Hemp's ear, she took hold of the woman's arm and tried to draw her away to a different bar. But Mrs. Pole, who was at the obstinately merry stage in her cups, refused to budge, and talked on in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear. Carrie saw, moreover, that Polly had turned round and was listening.
"And 'ow's yer 'usband?" cried Mrs. Pole, with a jocose wink. "What's ee got to say to yer comin' to such-like places as these o' nights? He-he-he! I ain't got no 'usband, I ain't; ain't I lucky?"
Polly turned away her head to hide a particularly malicious grin as she heard these remarks. She had no wish to let Carne see that she heard, so she at once began talking to some men who were near her. Nevertheless she kept an eye upon Mrs. Pole, and when, shortly after the lights were lowered, and the crowd of excited drinkers reeled and crushed out into the street, with hideous laughter, and screaming, and yells, Polly eluded her former companion and followed the other woman some distance along the street. At length she went up to her. The formation of an acquaintance between two such individuals is no difficult or ceremonious matter, and Polly Hemp speedily received and accepted an invitation to take a glass in Mrs. Pole's kitchen. The latter was at present living in Gerrard Street.
The result of this interview was seen on the following morning. Shortly before noon Polly Hemp issued forth from the dingy abode which, with playful reference to the character of its inmates, she was wont to term her "Convalescent Home," and attired in the manner of a highly respectable matron, wended her way to Huntley Street. Here she speedily found the house in which Arthur's brief married life had been spent, and in a conversation with worthy Mrs. Oaks, was deeply grieved that the latter could afford her no intelligence whatever as to the whereabouts of her dear nephew, Mr. Golding. On second thoughts, however, Mrs. Oaks recollected that she knew the address of an intimate friend of Mr. Golding, namely, Mark Challenger, and she suggested that in all probability the distressed lady might be able to derive from this latter gentleman the information she desired. Polly Hemp accordingly took her leave with a profusion of thanks, and later in the day waited upon Mr. Challenger, at his lodging in Gower Place.
Here she played a different rôle, namely, that of the aunt of Mrs. Golding. She had known the address in Huntley Street, she said, but, on calling there, had been bitterly disappointed to find her niece departed, no one knew whither. Simple-hearted Mark Challenger was the last person to suspect fraud in such a case. By means of a few carefully-framed questions he elicited, as he thought, the fact that his visitor knew nothing of Carrie's absconding, and then, unwilling to be the conveyer of such disagreeable intelligence, he contented himself with giving her Arthur's present address. With a gleam of joyful hope irradiating the melancholy of her countenance, honest Polly Hemp took her leave with many expressions of gratitude.
All this happened a few days after the interview between Helen and Arthur recorded in the last chapter. This afternoon Arthur had hurried home as quickly as possible from his work, and, without thinking of refreshment, had sat down at once at the table in his bedroom, inspired with the utmost ardour for his work. On the previous day he had purchased several plaster casts, and from one of these -- a head of a Venus -- he was engaged in making a drawing in crayon. He had placed his lamp so as to afford a striking effect of light and shade, and, having roughly sketched in the outlines, was commencing, with a hand which trembled with delight, to work at some of the broad shadows, when he was suddenly interrupted by a tap at his door. Unable to rise, he called out "Come in!" and Lucy Venning responded.
"There is a lady down stairs who wishes to see you, Mr. Golding," she said, looking, as she spoke, with curiosity at Arthur's work.
At the word "lady" Arthur had involuntarily started to his feet, and his blood, which had just now been coursing so warmly through his veins, seemed suddenly chilled. Had Lucy been looking at his face she must have noticed that he had suddenly turned pale, but luckily her attention was fixed upon the cast and the drawing.
"A lady?" repeated Arthur, as soon as he could speak, doing his best to make his tone one of mere surprise. "Whoever can it be? Is it an old lady, Miss Venning?"
"Yes; she looks rather old," replied Lucy.
Arthur sighed with relief; but the next moment a vague fear took possession of him. He stood reflecting.
"How very beautiful that is, Mr. Golding!" exclaimed Lucy, who seemed almost to have forgotten her errand in her admiration of the drawing. "Is this how you always employ yourself? I had no idea that you could draw."
"A little," he replied, doing his best to smile. "But I suppose the lady is waiting?"
"Oh yes; she is in the parlour. There is no one in, and I thought it best to take her there."
"Thank you," replied Arthur, speaking mechanically. "I will go down at once."
He turned and went down-stairs, leaving Lucy to close the room door. In the parlour he found the middle-aged, respectably-attired lady whom the reader is of course prepared to recognize as Polly Hemp.
"Mr. Golding, I think?" she began, with a slightly affected cough, as soon as Arthur had entered the room.
The young man bowed acquiescence, assuring himself the while that this visitor was an absolute stranger to him.
"Then," continued Polly, "I may as well say what I've got to say at once. My name's Mrs. Hemp, and I'm a quiet widow as keeps a lodging-house Piccadilly way. It's now about a month since a young lady, as called herself Miss Mitchell, came and took a room in my house, which the rent of it, together with two meals a day, was to be twenty-five shillings a week. I don't as a rule like taking single ladies, they're often fast-like, you know, sir; but this one seemed so very respectable-looking as I couldn't think of refusing her. Well, she come to me, and she paid the first week's rent in advance, as of course I always make it a rule. But, since that, she hasn't paid no rent at all. And that isn't the worst. I soon began to find out as she wasn't at all proper -- had gentlemen to visit her at all hours, and such like things, you see, sir. Well, that of course would be the ruin of a respectable house like mine, so I just give her notice, and thought to myself I must just be content to be at the loss of my money. When she was going, the other day, I asked her if she meant to pay me what was due, and she said as she hadn't no means of paying, but that she was married -- a thing I never knew before -- and if I liked she'd give me a letter to take to her husband, asking him, you see, to pay the rent as was due. She couldn't tell me just where her husband lived, but she told me to go to a Mr. Challenger, as lives near the Euston Road, and he would give me your address, you see. So I went, and Mr. Challenger give me your address, and I've come to see whether you'll be so good as to pay me what your wife owes. And here's the letter."
So saying, Polly produced a sheet of note-paper, on which was written the following, in a hand very admirably imitated from poor Carrie's scrawl. This was not the first occasion on which Polly Hemp had found skill in forgery, a very important feature of her stock-in-trade: --
"Dear Arthur, --
"Will you please pay Mrs. Hemp three pound fifteen which is what I rightly owe her. I am sorry to trouble you, but I have no money and she says she can get it from you in a cort if it isnt paid.
Arthur held this scrawl in his hand for some minutes after reading it, unable to speak, scarcely to think. Not for a moment did a doubt of its genuineness cross his mind. He recognised too well the old hand-writing which he had striven so hard to improve, and even thought that he remembered some of poor Carrie's pet faults in spelling. The indelicacy of the act shocked him, and yet he felt that it was only too much in harmony with what he knew, or thought he knew, of Carrie's character. At this moment there was a strange warfare in heart. Convinced as he was that his old love was dead past reviving, he yet felt a deep pity excited in him by what he had heard. That which we have once intensely loved can never be wholly indifferent to us, and the thought of Carrie, she who was still his wife, fallen into hideous vice and wretchedness, pulled terribly at his heart-strings. And if pity was awakened, a sterner voice, that of conscience, also began to speak within him. He could not forget that he had made no serious effort to discover his wife and bring her back to live with him. In the months which had intervened since their parting he had frequently consoled himself with the reflection that this marriage, which was a mere name, a form, had in reality been rendered null and void by Carrie's own behaviour. For all that he could not help feeling at times that he had blinded himself by a sophism, and at the present moment he experienced a pang of actual remorse.
"And where is -- is she now?" he asked at length, recalled to a sense of the business in hand by a cough from his visitor.
"I don't know no more than you do, sir," was the reply, with a shrug. "People as leaves houses without paying their rents ain't so ready to let one know where they go to."
Again there was a pause, during which Arthur struggled between his desire to question this woman further with regard to Carrie, and the feeling of disgust which her face and tone excited in him. Polly naturally thought he was reflecting whether he should pay or not, and did her best to assume the look of one patient under injury.
"Did she say anything else to you about me," asked Arthur, at length, "except that I might perhaps pay her debts?"
"Nothing else as I remember," replied Polly, after a moment of rapid reflection.
"Did -- did she seem in good health when she was in your house?" was Arthur's next question.
"Moderate well, I think sir," replied Polly.
"And you know nothing whatever of her at present?"
"No more than you do yourself, sir."
Arthur sighed as his eye again fell upon the note.
"If you will excuse me for a minute," he then said, "I will fetch the money for you."
He went up to his room and returned in a very few minutes, holding the money in his hand. He had of late resumed his habit of parsimonious living, and every penny he could save was put aside in fear of unexpected calls upon him.
"You will write me a receipt on the back of this note," he said, laying the letter upon the table. "Please to put your address at the top; it might someday be useful to me."
Polly wrote the desired form, adding, it is needless to say, a fictitious address, and, with a hand which trembled in spite of herself, took the money and dropped it into her purse.
"I hope, sir," she said, as she rose, in a tone of dignified humility, "I hope as you don't think I've done wrong in coming and troubling you about this little matter. Though I do my best to keep up a respectable appearance I'm only a poor woman, and I could ill afford to lose three weeks' rent. I hope you understand me, sir."
"I understand perfectly," replied Arthur, in an absent manner, without looking at her.
"Then I wish you good-night, with many thanks, sir," said Polly.
"Good-night," returned Arthur, leading the way mechanically to the door.
He returned to his room, and for an hour paced the floor in the old manner, grievously troubled in mind. But the absolute silence of the house, the genial warmth of the fire in his grate, the dim light in the room (for the rays of the lamp were concentrated, by means of a reflector, full upon the bust), these at length operated with calming effect upon him. His thoughts slipped from gloomy imaginations of Carrie's sufferings to the interview with Helen Norman. Here was an antidote for all ills. Opening a drawer, always kept carefully locked, he took out his portrait of Helen, which he had obtained again from Will Noble. Preferring this original drawing to any subsequent copy, he had carefully patched together the torn halves, and had enclosed the whole in a simple frame. He did not venture to hang it openly in his room, but at night, when the house was still, and he alone awake, he hung it up on the wall before him, that the calm, sweet look of the beautiful eyes might afford a never-failing source of courage and inspiration. This he did now, after imprinting a kiss upon the outlined lips, and at once he recovered his interrupted zeal, and so laboured far into the night.
In the meantime Polly Hemp had regained her abode, joy in her heart and money in her purse. Before letting herself In with the latch-key she obeyed her invariable habit and looked up at all the windows on the front of the house. There was no light save in one on the top floor, and Polly smiled to herself as she recognised Carrie's presence. But the smile was immediately followed by a frown. This was no time for her young lady lodgers to be taking their ease at home. To do so had, however, been frequently Carrie's custom of late. Polly entered with a determination to speak seriously.
The house was perfectly quiet, and perfectly dark. Polly, who always walked about with an ominously light and cat-like step, seemed also to have the eyes of a cat, for she guided herself without the slightest noise along the passage and down a short flight of steps. Then she stopped and called with a low voice down into the realms of darkness.
A species of growl was the only reply. Probably it was a dog whom she thus addressed by his name. And yet that could hardly be so, for she went on to ask questions.
"Anyone been, Jo?"
"Not as I knows on," replied the voice, with a drunken hiccough.
"Not as I knows on."
"Then you're a fool, Jo," rejoined Polly, still in the same quiet voice, "and you'll get the sack if you don't know your business better. Carrie's in?"
"Don't reckon her," replied the man, for such appeared to be the speaker. "She's always in. She come in above an hour sen'."
"You're half drunk, Jo," said Polly, after a moment's silence. "I shall have to find another bully, mind if I don't."
Another growl was the only response, and this terminated the conversation. Polly then retraced her steps with equal silence into the passage, and thence up to the top of the house. She tried the door of Carrie's room, and it opened.
It was a rather ill-furnished bedroom, with here and there traces of worn-out finery which had probably been removed from the better rooms below. As well as the bed, there was a sofa, and, hung against the wall, a long gilt-framed mirror, cracked across the middle. On the floor was a strip of carpet which had once been gaudy, and the chairs were seated with what had formerly been bright green cloth, now resembling a dingy yellow. In one corner was a spittoon, and a man's old hat was hanging on a peg behind the door. On the sofa lay the present occupant of this chamber. She had apparently thrown off her paletôt on entering, and she lay in her blue silk dress, which was open at the bosom. She was asleep, a heavy, drunken sleep, more resembling a state of insensibility than ordinary slumber. The cushion had slipped from under her head, which drooped almost to the floor, and her features were terribly distorted and discoloured by the position. One hand was clasped on the back of the sofa, the other lay on the floor. Lying thus, Carrie might have served for a personification of brutal drunkenness.
On the table was the lamp which illumined the room, and, close to it, a spirit bottle and a glass, the former empty, the latter still containing a few drops. But the table showed something more interesting to Polly than these everyday objects. There, glistening in the light of the lamp, lay three bright sovereigns. Polly no longer paid any attention to the sleeping girl, but at once seized on the coins and clasped them in her fist. Then, with a hideous grin upon her face, and still treading with the utmost quietness, she glided from the room, muttering to herself, "At last!"
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