George Gissing

WORKERS IN THE DAWN

PART THREE (CHAPTERS IX-XVI)


CHAPTERS






CHAPTER IX

LOVES AND FRIENDSHIPS

Mr. Gresham, faithful to his promise, appeared once more in London early in December, and remained till he had seen his ward, together with her safeguard, Mrs. Cumberbatch, comfortably settled in the new house in Highbury. The intercourse between Helen and her guardian during the period of removal was extremely slight. The former left to Mrs. Cumberbatch, who gloried in the trust, the whole business of choosing the furniture, and Mr. Gresham was not displeased to have this means of avoiding communication with his ward, in whose presence he could never feel altogether at his ease. Only once did Helen consult him as to her future life, and that was with reference to Lucy Venning. The artist, with characteristic politeness, expressed his complete concurrence in Miss Norman's plans, saying that he esteemed it a most happy idea, and one which, had he been acquainted with a suitable person, he should certainly have himself suggested. But he showed no desire to make the acquaintance of Miss Venning, being quite content to repose all confidence in Helen's discrimination. As Mr. Gresham grew older he became more and more convinced that the true philosophy of life consisted in minimising one's share in the troublesome details of the world's business. On the very day succeeding that of Helen's ultimate settlement in Holly Cottage, Mr. Gresham took his departure. Even now he felt that unnecessary delay in the neighbourhood of his fair ward would be dangerous to his peace of mind.

Mr. Heatherley lost no time in paying Helen a visit in her new home. He came on New Year's eve and found her sitting alone in the pleasant little room which was especially her own, and which she had arranged in the manner of a study. Mrs. Cumberbatch was enjoying herself at a festive gathering with some of her numerous acquaintances, and Lucy Venning, who now made her home with Helen, was passing the evening with her father. Helen met her visitor with a cheerful, even a gay, reception.

"Doubtless I disturb you in some deep and serious philosophical investigation," said the clergyman, with that slight tone of good-humoured banter with which he generally spoke of Helen's studies.

"By no means," she replied, resuming her seat by the fire. "I must actually confess that I had descended to the frivolity of the newspaper. To tell you the truth I feel a little tired tonight and not quite fit for serious work."

"I suppose you have been receiving a good many visitors since you became settled?"

"Visitors?" asked Helen, smiling.

"Yes," replied the clergyman. "I mean your friends and acquaintances."

"You are the first of such visitors, Mr. Heatherley," said Helen, "and in all probability will he the last. Besides yourself I have neither friends nor acquaintances upon whose visits I may depend."

"Your life must be a strangely solitary one, Miss Norman," said Mr. Heatherley, after regarding her for a moment with some appearance of surprise.

"I will confess that I have now and then felt it to be so," returned Helen, "and on that account I persuaded Lucy Venning to come and be a companion for me."

There was a brief silence, during which the clergyman knit his brows and appeared to be reflecting upon some rather disagreeable subject.

"I heard of that for the first time," he said at length, "about a week ago, from Mr. Venning."

"With pleasure or the opposite?" asked Helen, adding immediately, "perhaps with indifference?"

"Certainly not with indifference," he replied, coughing slightly and keeping his eyes fixed on the fire, whilst he rested his hands upon his knees in a manner customary with him when about to speak seriously. After pausing for a moment, during which Helen regarded him with a curious look, he again coughed and proceeded.

"May I ask what kind of companionship you look for from Miss Venning?"

"The companionship of a pleasant friend," replied Helen. "When I am merry she chats with me; when I am in a more earnest mood she saves me from the unpleasant habit of soliloquy. We have taken up a course of reading, too, together. I hope to be able to teach Lucy much that she has hitherto had no opportunity of learning."

"That I anticipated, Miss Norman," said Mr. Heatherley, "and it was partly in consequence of this anticipation that I came to see you to-night. If I speak to you with some freedom on a matter of grave interest to me, I am sure you will not take it amiss?"

"I trust you will not do me the wrong of thinking otherwise, Mr. Heatherley."

"Then I will take the liberty of asking you one more question. Does it enter into your plans to impart to Miss Venning your views on the subject of religion?"

"I have no such intention," replied Helen, smiling. "Lucy believes me as orthodox in all such matters as she is herself. Indeed, I feel sure that her simple mind is incapable of conceiving heterodoxy as grave as mine; or, if it be, she certainly could not attribute such depravity to the most abandoned of criminals. So careful have I been lest I should prove a rock of offence to her, that I have resolved to be guilty of habitual falsehood, in leading her to suppose that I visit a place of worship in the West End each Sunday. I think you will admit that it is a pious fraud, Mr. Heatherley?"

The clergyman made no immediate reply, but continued to sit with his hands upon his knees, gazing into the fire.

"What are you reading with her at present?" he asked.

"One or two of 'Macaulay's Essays,'" she replied, with a smile.

"Is Miss Venning an apt pupil?"

"Extremely so. Her intelligence is admirable, and the excellence of her heart is a guarantee for the soundness of her moral judgment."

"You have relieved my mind from a very disagreeable load, Miss Norman," said Mr. Heatherley, after a brief silence. "If you think I have been guilty of an injustice towards you in being for a moment fearful, I beg you will pardon me in consideration of the interests at stake. Since Miss Venning's joining you in the work of the evening classes, I have seen in her qualities which before I had never suspected, knowing her only as a good and quiet member of my Sunday School. I will confess, too, that your evident fondness of her society has increased my interest in her. It would have been impossible for me to stand by whilst the foundations of her faith were being attacked, and perhaps hopelessly destroyed. But, as I said, you have relieved my mind."

Finding Helen's eyes closely fixed upon him, his face coloured slightly as he finished speaking, and, almost immediately, he turned the conversation into a wholly different channel. At the end of about half-an-hour he rose to go.

"I have not made a formal enquiry after your health, Miss Norman," he said, as he was drawing on his great coat, "for I deemed it unnecessary. For the last few weeks I have been astonished at your improvement. The weather has been so extremely trying, and yet you appear to grow better in health and spirits every day."

"I certainly do feel much better than I did," replied Helen, with a slight laugh. "I am somewhat at a loss to account for it."

"Well, do not, for all that, presume upon your strength. You certainly ought not to walk about much in the snow. Pray take counsel from the past, and exercise prudence."

"Oh, Mr. Heatherley," exclaimed Helen, "how can you have the heart to advise me to think so much of my own comfort, when the poor are suffering so terribly! I think if I were ever so ill the thought of starvation in those terrible hovels in weather such as this would compel me to keep at work. Help is more than ever needed just now, and certainly there is more gratification in affording it than when the need is less obvious. I met this morning a wretched woman whom I scarcely ever see sober, and could not help buying her a warm gown and a cloak. I feel almost sure that before to-morrow they will both be pawned for drink, but I could not do otherwise."

"I often think I am becoming somewhat hard-hearted," replied the clergyman, as he held out his hand. "I refused charity this morning under very similar circumstances. I cannot afford to throw away what might be of real use."

The next two months passed quickly both for Helen Norman and for Arthur Golding. During that period they only saw each other once, and then without interchange of more than a bow, and yet there were not many minutes during the day in which the thoughts of each were not occupied with the other. Both were happy, for both were nourishing their hearts with the anticipation of a blissful future, though probably neither ventured to peer too closely into the golden mist which swam before their eyes.

During this time the constant presence of Lucy Venning was inexpressibly comforting to Helen. Without assumedly making her simple friend a confidante in the secret emotions of her heart, Helen did not hesitate to speak to her of Arthur as she would have spoken to no one else, reposing the most absolute trust in Lucy's discreet and affectionate nature. The latter soon understood that it gave Helen the utmost joy to see any specimen of Arthur's work, and her woman's nature taught her how to meet half way Arthur's wish that she should be the means of taking drawings to Holly Cottage. Every Sunday she spent at home with her father, and sometimes one or two evenings in the week also; and at such times Arthur was sure to find an opportunity of giving into her care a small parcel which she took away with her, and brought back on her next visit. Once or twice Lucy was entrusted to express to Arthur, in private, Miss Norman's special delight in some drawing she had seen; whereupon Arthur at once sent it back again, begging that Miss Norman would accept it from him. And these gifts Helen treasured up with unspeakable care.

At length, early in March, Lucy was once more entrusted with a message to the effect that Arthur would feel grateful if Miss Norman could accord him an interview on a matter of some importance. She brought back the answer that on the following Sunday morning, about eleven o'clock, Miss Norman would be at liberty. At this time Helen knew that Mrs. Cumberbatch would be attending her special place of worship in the Mile End Road, exercising her eternal curiosity on the concerns of heaven instead of those of earth. She felt sure she knew the purpose of Arthur's visit, and she looked forward to it with an impatience even greater than that she had experienced three months ago.

She received him in the drawing-room, a handsomely-furnished apartment which looked out on to the little garden in front of the house, the view being strictly circumscribed within this small area by the high hedge of impenetrable holly-bushes which skirted the garden on all three sides. The privacy thus secured was delightful to Helen, who detested the sight of vulgar and pretentious people, such as she knew her neighbours on either side to be. She looked forward with delightful anticipation to the warm days of summer, when she would be able to sit on the lawn, and yet be as private as though in her own room.

They met with perfect freedom from embarrassment, and with a keen joy on both sides which neither affected to conceal. After a few introductory sentences exchanged, Arthur proceeded to state the object of his visit.

"A fortnight to-day, Miss Norman," he said, "will be my twenty-first birth-day. As Mr. Gresham has, of course, no knowledge of my address, I wish to apprise him of it; but before I can do that, I must know where to write to."

"I will give you the address," replied Helen, taking up a piece of paper and writing upon it. "Mr. Gresham lives in France now."

Arthur took the paper, and, after reading the address, put it in his purse. There was a minute's silence, during which his eyes wandered round the pictures on the walls. At length they fell upon one of his own drawings, hanging framed in a good light. He turned his head quickly towards Helen, and their eyes met. The latter blushed, bent for a moment over a book which lay open on the table, and then forced herself to speak.

"Are you a reader of poetry, Mr. Golding?" she asked, rustling over the leaves before her, whilst Arthur stood enraptured with the unconscious grace of her attitude and the glowing beauty of her countenance.

"I have had neither time nor opportunity to read as much as I should like to," he replied. "Shakespeare, and many of the older poets, I learned to love from Mr. Tollady. Of the modern writers, I think I know Shelley best. But perhaps I am more capable of appreciating his principles than his poetry. To enjoy the latter requires, I fear, more culture than I may pretend to."

"Oh, you underrate your own powers, Mr. Golding," replied Helen, earnestly. "The very fact that you like Shelley proves you are able to appreciate him. He is not a poet to attract vacant minds by mere empty jingle or easily-digested platitudes. I myself learnt to love Shelley from my father when a mere child, and now I prize him as my surest safeguard against despair of the world. Those who, like myself, see too much of the evil and discouraging side of life, cannot afford to dispense with poetry."

"I have often thought the same with regard to my own art," replied Arthur. "I know scarcely anything of the life which is raised above sordid cares and miseries, except from what I have read in books and imagined in my too-frequent daydreams; yet no sooner do I take up a pencil than I seem to taste all the delights of a higher and nobler existence, where the only food which is yearned after is that of the mind and the heart, and where the joys and sorrows are deeper and purer than those of the every-day world. How much I have to thank you for, Miss Norman!" he added, with a voice which trembled with emotion. "Had it not been for your encouraging words I might still have been suffering unspeakable wretchedness. At present I look back upon that time in which I had no thought of art as a period of something worse than death. I think it would be impossible for me to sink into such apathy again."

"I trust it would be," she replied. "And yet I am not sure you do right in speaking of it as apathy. Even then your mind was occupied with no ignoble thoughts. No, no; you must not call it apathy; for the thoughts and the plans which then engrossed your attention were the very same which will, I trust, form the occupation of my whole life. I have become convinced, Mr. Golding, that we should not regret any single event in our lives which was not absolutely the result of an evil purpose. Every such event has been necessary for our development; without it we should have lacked some useful experience which has contributed to the formation of our character. I am very optimistic in my philosophy," she added, smiling, "and it is happy for me I can be so. The difference between my own point of view and that of a pious Christian who says that everything is for the best, is not really so great as it might at first sight appear."

She watched the result of these words upon him carefully, and was pleased to see the smile of intelligence and sympathy which rose to his lips as she spoke. There was something of pain, too, in the expression of his face, which she attributed to the recollection of some by-gone unhappiness, and which affected her with compassion unspeakably tender. Again a brief silence ensued, during which she turned over the leaves of the book on the table.

"I was reading Tennyson when you came," she said. "There is a deep, glad ring of hope throughout his poems which chimes delightfully with my own best thoughts. You have read Tennyson?"

"With the exception of a few short poems," replied Arthur, "I do not know him."

"Oh, then you must lose no time in making his acquaintance!" replied Helen. "Please to let me lend you his works. Will you take all at once, or one volume at a time?"

"I shall be very grateful," replied Arthur, his face flushing with joy. "But only one volume at once. It is but very little time I can find for reading, for I almost grudge every moment which is not given to drawing."

"Then you shall take this volume," she resumed. "I think it likely you will find many suggestions for pictures here. One verse particularly struck me this morning, and made me think of -- that an artist might make a wonderful painting from it. It is in 'The Palace of Art,' -- a delightful poem. It is this," she added, opening the book and reading: --

L>DD>And one a full-fed river, winding slow
By herds upon an endless plain,
The rugged rims of thunder brooding low,
With shadow-streaks of rain.

Or this, if you are in a wild, instead of a melancholy, mood --

L>DD>And one a foreground black with stones and slags,
Beyond, a line of heights, and higher
All barr'd with long white cloud the scornful crags,
And highest, snow and fire.

Are they not grand?"

"Wonderful pictures, indeed," replied Arthur, upon whose ear the melody of her voice had fallen with intoxicating sweetness. "Is it a long poem, Miss Norman?"

"Oh no; comparatively short."

"How I should like to hear you read it all! Poetry never sounded so delightful to me as in those two verses from your lips."

He spoke thoughtlessly, allowing himself to be carried away by the current of his passion. Helen blushed, but with pleasure, and motioning him to a seat, at once began to read. Her voice was rich and full, and lent itself admirably to the expression of the varying moods of the poem. At first there was something of timidness in her tone, but this speedily faded, and, seeing her hearer sunk in the deepest enjoyment, she read her very best. When she had finished Arthur made no remark. Commonplace compliment would have been ridiculously out of place. Silence was the best way of showing the impression made upon him. Helen was the first to speak.

"This poem," she said, "contains an admirable moral, very applicable to myself. How often have I been tempted to build just such a Palace of Art, and to shut myself up in it with an infinitude of intellectual delights, heedless of the rest of the world. Happily I have hitherto been able to resist such temptations, as I trust I may always do."

Very shortly Arthur took his leave, and walked home with a heart brimming over with happiness which left no place for a single speck of gloom or doubt. During the afternoon he plunged into the delights of the volume Helen had lent him, the fact that the book he held in his hand was hers adding unspeakably to the genuine enthusiasm which the poetry aroused. He turned over the pages delicately, and held the book with an exquisite tenderness of touch, as though it were the hand of Helen herself. Many times did he read through to himself "The Palace of Art," for with the sight of the printed words came back upon his ear, with an almost startling distinctness, each gentle modulation of the reader's voice. Every peculiarity of emphasis or of punctuation reproduced itself as from a ghostly tongue in the silence of his room. He felt that if he were to lay the poem aside for fifty years and then once more read it, he should still have that voice in his ears, and once more thrill through every nerve to the sound of its exquisite melody.

As the evening deepened into night he sat by his fire brooding over the two verses which Helen had indicated to him, for already he had resolved to do his utmost to depict the scenes in visible form, in order to have the pleasure of offering them to his idol. The tender gloom of the hour and the kindled enthusiasm of his mind worked together to arouse his imagination, and when at length the silence was slightly broken by the sound of a solemn melody played in the room below, the inspiration of the air came upon him, and in the glowing embers he saw distinctly the outlines of the first scene. He fixed his attention so strongly upon it that it attained to absolute reality. Snatching up a piece of paper from the table he drew rapidly in broad dark lines the main features of the landscape, for all, even to the moulding of the low, black clouds, was plain before him. The whole thus secured, he averted his eyes for a moment, and, as he did so, a piece of coal crumbled into ruin, veiling the vision. He reflected, listening to the solemn music half unconsciously the while, and by degrees h eyes once more wandered to the fire, where the heat had no built up new forms. Before long the subject of the second verse began to grow before him, and at length, from the black foreground to the glowing summits, he saw it all. Again he took paper and hastily outlined the bold mountain masses, fixing in his mind all the rich gradations of hue which burned before him, and which on the morrow he would exhaust his pallet to obtain. In this way he spent two hours in an artist's dreamland, issuing from it purified and exalted, as though he had drunk of the water of an enchanted spring.

Soon after six o'clock he was disturbed by the arrival of a visitor, William Noble. Of late he had grown rather to fear Noble's visits, both because he knew that the latter looked with but little less than contempt upon the choice he had made of his life's work, and because Noble's inflexible moral judgment so often found expression in sentiments which had a disagreeable application to Arthur's present state of mind. Noble constantly spoke of Carrie, taking it for granted that Arthur would never cease to exert himself to rediscover the unhappy girl. Already once or twice Arthur had been compelled to tell a direct falsehood in answering his friend's questions, and the awakening of conscience subsequent upon such conversation had caused him several hours of acute misery. Very much of the old cordiality had already faded from their intercourse, and the subjects upon which they could converse seemed to grow fewer and less interesting at each meeting. Arthur often thought that Noble assumed a monitorial tone to him which was scarcely warrantable, and, though withheld by the gentleness of his disposition from provoking an open outbreak, by degrees listened with less of good-humour to the other's moral strictures.

Noble seemed in unusually high spirits to-night, a circumstance explained by the first words he uttered.

"Well, I have succeeded at last!" he exclaimed, on entering. "The club is to be established once more, and, I believe, on a firmer foundation. During the last few days I have made the acquaintance of an admirable man, by trade a builder, who has risen from the extremest poverty to comparative wealth, and, on my asking him to join me in this work, he offered out of hand to pay the rent of a club-house, if I could only find half-a-dozen men willing to subscribe a shilling a week and to work with a heart. We have decided to begin upon a rather different plan, though. When I got together the old club I expected rather too much, I fear. It's difficult to find a number of working men who will give their money and their time for other people's advantage, and be content to derive nothing themselves except the sense of doing their duty. This time we shall go more on the lines of the ordinary benefit society. We shall have a certain minimum subscription, and shall try to collect our members from the poorest and most wretched classes. We shall have men, women and children -- anyone in short who will join, and in return for the subscriptions we shall do our best to give assistance to any member who really wants it. The lectures and debates we shall continue as before, and no doubt before long we shall be able to have a reading-room, and perhaps a library. Having a building ready to our hands and free of expense, of course gives us a glorious start. Well, I have got four of the half dozen subscribers; men I know well myself and who can be depended upon. Now I have come to ask you to make up the total, Golding. I didn't come before, because I felt sure I could depend upon you, and I knew you would be glad to hear what progress I had made. Your help will be invaluable in keeping the thing well together and making the men enthusiastic. I haven't forgotten how you used to speak at the old club. When have you a free evening? When shall I take you to see Lawton? -- that's the builder's name.

Arthur was silent for some moments before replying. To refuse to join in this scheme would, he knew, deeply grieve, if not offend, Noble, and yet he felt it impossible to give his assent. He spoke at length in a voice which betrayed his embarrassment.

"I am glad, heartily glad, Noble, that you have such an excellent prospect of carrying out your plans. No one could possibly feel their excellence more than I do, and no one could wish you success more heartily. But I fear it is impossible for me to join you in the work as I did before. What money I can possibly spare I will gladly devote to the club, but my time I must be so selfish as to withhold. I know you do not approve of the path I am following; it seems to you one of mere idle self-gratification. But it is my nature; I act under impulses which I feel compelled to obey. I could not be content with giving you only part of my time and my thoughts; either you must have all, or none. You have no need of half-workers, and such I should be, even in spite of myself."

Noble listened to these excuses with a look of surprise, passing into one of pain and displeasure.

"I certainly couldn't have believed you would refuse your help in such a matter as this," he replied, whilst Arthur's eyes drooped before his stern gaze. "Have you then lost all interest in what you were once ready to devote your life to?"

"You must do your best to understand me," rejoined Arthur, gathering courage and resolving to act independently. "Did I not say that I still retained the utmost interest in this work, and was willing to help it with money as much as ever I could?"

"But you refuse any personal participation in my plans. To say that I must have all your time or none is absurd. I should not think of asking for more than you could reasonably spare -- an evening once or twice in the week, or so. I should be quite satisfied with that. It is your personal influence that I need far more than your money. Surely you will not refuse so slight a sacrifice?"

"It's extremely difficult to make you see my reasons for refusing what seems so little, for you have no sympathy with the work I am wholly devoted to. I am working at art under difficulties just now; having to give my whole day to bread-winning labour, and only having the nights and the early mornings for my real work. Under these circumstances I confess, Noble, I should grudge a single hour even for such a cause as yours. Very shortly I hope to be free from my daily labour, and you will perhaps think I might at least then be able to spare a few evenings. But if I hope to succeed as an artist, even the whole day and night is scarcely enough for me; I shall dread to lose a minute. And besides, in joining you there would be something even worse for me than the mere loss of precious time. It would be such a terrible distraction. When I ought to keep my thoughts constantly fixed upon one object, I should be occupied perpetually with a thousand, and each one of them sufficient to make me weary and wretched. I tell you plainly I should fear to recommence with you, for I know well what an irresistible fascination your scheme would soon exercise over me. Indeed, Noble, you must pardon me, and try, at least, to believe that I am not altogether actuated by an ignoble selfishness. There is something higher than that in this art work of mine, though I fear it would be useless for me to endeavour to make you see it. I see you are angry. Well, I am sorry for it, but what can I do? Surely you should be the last, Noble, to compel anyone to act in the teeth of his firmest convictions."

"Your convictions seem to have so little consistency in them," replied the other, with something of bitterness in his tone, "that I confess myself unable to respect their latest form. Can you seriously tell me that -- after seeing as much as you have done of the evils of poverty, after being so strongly convinced that it is the duty of each honest man to do his utmost to lessen them, after seeing how much can be done even with the slightest means, if only there is real energy to back them up -- can you seriously say that, after all this, now that there is a better opportunity than ever of being useful, you believe it your duty to turn aside from the work and spend your life in devotion to a mere unreasoning passion, in efforts directed towards a useless end? If you mean that, it is indeed useless to try to make me understand. I can only be sorry for the fate of all your good resolutions."

For a moment Arthur was on the point of replying angrily, but with a great effort he checked the rising irritation, and, after pacing the room once or twice, spoke calmly.

"Then you are resolved to be uncharitable in your views, Noble. Perhaps you even think me ungrateful in acting as I do since I owe you so much. In all probability you saved my life, and you think it only just that I should spend it henceforth according to your guidance. But believe me, I am making a better use of my life than you would have me do. I am so certain of this, that I even risk your worst misinterpretations. Perhaps you will some day see that I was right. Pursue your own path; it is a glorious one, and for you the only right one. But I know well that it would only lead me astray."

"Good-bye!" exclaimed Noble, holding out his hand, as he turned to go.

"Till when?" asked Arthur.

"What is the use in our continuing to meet?" returned the other, with sadness in his tone. "It would be a constant pain to me to see you. I should always be reproaching you, or, if I did not speak what I thought, you would be conscious of all I felt, and could not be at ease with me."

"But cannot we still be friends? Do you hold that all who are not with you are against you? Cannot we meet on the ground of mutual liking, and see whether that will not improve into mutual respect? I have not so many friends, Noble, that I can afford to quarrel with one of the best."

"For the present, Golding," returned Noble, "we had better part. My life is so bound up in this work that I have no leisure to devote to one who has no share in it. Don't think I speak harshly. You plead to me the constitution of your mind, and I must do the same to you. No, you are not against me, but you are indifferent. I have somewhat downright habits of thought and speech, I fear, and it would be impossible for me to affect cordiality when I did not feel it. Good-bye."

"Since it must be so then," replied Arthur, "good-bye. But I feel sure it is only for a while, Noble. Where shall I send my subscription to?"

"From you I could not accept it, Golding. It would only make me think of the help you might have given me. You may alter your purpose, still. If you do you know how it will delight me to see you."

They parted with a silent hand-grasp, and Will Noble went on his way, convinced that he had behaved as his principles required. The hard work of the world he felt could not be done by mere time-service, and lack of firmness in little things seemed to him as bad as in great. Noble was not the only man who obeys an exaggerated consistency, but there are few who trace the principle to so pure a source.





CHAPTER X

BREAKING INTO BLOOM

By dint of feigning a few days' sickness, a stratagem which under the circumstances he had no hesitation in employing, Arthur managed to obtain daylight for working at his two pictures, and on the Saturday preceding his birthday they were finished. In them he had given free rein to his luxuriant imagination, and had succeeded in producing an intensely weird effect, an admirable embodiment of the ideas which had inspired him. They were small water-colours, and doubtless gave evidence of a hand still lacking technical dexterity, but the soul which breathed in them could only have been imparted by true genius. Like all excellent pictures they suggested much more than they actually expressed, and in the heart-rending melancholy of the one, the stern, maddening grandeur of the other, there lurked a spell which, powerless over vulgar natures, at once seized captive sympathetic souls and bound them in a day-dream of glimmering fancies. Never had Arthur felt within his veins that throb of so intense a life as when, with pencil in hand, he added touch after touch, and saw the colours speak in answer to his thoughts, or, as was often the case, learnt from them some new mystery of beauty far excelling what he had designed to embody.

He continued to gaze at them, and to add slight touches first to one then to the other, until the early night closed in, and he could no longer see his work. The fit of enthusiasm, which ever comes as the reward on the completion of a work of art, was now upon him. He enjoyed with rapture that clear, calm consciousness of superiority to the every-day world, a feeling so distinct from vulgar vanity which it is granted to genius alone to experience. So excessive was his joy that he felt light-headed; he would have been glad to commit some folly, to plunge into a stream of thoughtless gaiety, to sing, to shout his enthusiasm. His room was soon quite dark, but at present he could not have borne to have it otherwise. In the faint flittings hither and thither of rays from the fire, and in the motion of the shadows they caused, his excited fancy could picture legions of spirits filling the air about him. Even the physical senses were affected. He seemed to breathe delicious perfumes, his forehead and cheeks were fanned with cool, scented airs, he felt the touch of fairy hands caressing his hair. His heart throbbed ecstatically painfully; his hands were hot as fire. Seizing the volume of poems which Miss Norman had lent him, he pressed it again and again to his lips, murmuring passionately, "Helen! Helen!"

The moment passed and he was calmer, but still unable to be at rest. The solitude of his room now oppressed him, and he dreaded lest Mr. Venning should come, as he often did on Saturday night, and request his company. He resolved to go out. The night was fine, though cold, with a cutting wind, and the firmament was thickly sown with stars. The first breath of the keen air, meeting him full in the face as he issued forth, quickened his pulse, and increased the yearning for excitement. It was long since he had visited a theatre, and the thought of an evening there came to him as an irresistible temptation. He purchased a newspaper and ran over the list of advertisements. At one of the large houses he found that "Romeo and Juliet" was being played, the heroine's part by an actress equally celebrated for loveliness and talent. The play was congenial to his mood, and he went.

Shaken and bruised with emotion in his inmost heart, he hastened home as soon as the play was over, eager now to be alone with his thoughts. A resolve, which had first made its presence known by a timid whisper whilst he was completing the pictures, had been fostered into life and strength by the warm passion of his soul as he listened to the hapless lovers of Verona, and now panted to find utterance in louder and more decisive tones than those of reverie. On entering Arthur found his room cold, for the fire had long since gone out. Already the house was wrapt in the silence of sleep, but the morrow was a day of rest, and there was something to be done before he could close his eyes. Whilst the fire was burning quickly up, he again left the house, but only for a few minutes, bringing back a most unwonted luxury, a bottle of wine. But it was the eve of his twenty-first birthday, and he had work to do which called for a stout heart.

In a quarter of an hour the fire had reached a clear, strong glow, and the room was again warm and cheerful. Arthur established himself in his arm-chair, and opened a small port folio upon his knees. It was writing-paper that he took from it, for now he was about to use the pen, not the pencil. He drank one or two glasses of wine, and felt his faculties freshened and made more acute. At length when a neighbouring church-clock chimed half-past twelve, he dipped his pen in the ink, and began to write, at first slowly and timidly, afterwards with a firmness of purpose and clearness of thought which allowed him no pause till he had finished. It was a letter he had written, and it ran thus:


"Dear Miss Norman --
"When you suggested to me the two verses from Tennyson's 'Palace of Art' as good subjects for pictures, though I said nothing of my purpose, I at once resolved to follow the suggestion and to do my utmost to render them worthily. Working in such intervals as my daily employment allows, I have to-day succeeded in finishing two small drawings. I need scarcely say that the execution of them is far inferior to what I could have wished; perhaps that is the fault which practice will remedy. If there be any merit in the conception, it is wholly due to you, who in reading the verses gave such expression to the idea that no mind endowed with the slightest powers of fancy could have failed to picture to itself the scenes described.

"I have worked hard to finish these to-day, and for a special reason. To-morrow is my birthday, on which day I wished to offer them to you. Yet not only for their own sake would I offer them, but as a symbol. As it is you whom I have to thank for awakening in me the artist's impulse and enthusiasm, so do I likewise owe to you the consciousness of a yet more powerful instinct. In laying before you these poor pictures, I offer at the same time a devoted heart.

"I said that to-morrow was my birthday, but I should have said to-day, for I am writing in the silence of midnight. What I now write I feel that I could not have spoken, courage would have failed me. I have long wished to give utterance to this strongest feeling of my nature, but to-day I do so with, I will not say more confidence, but less of misgiving than I could have felt in expressing it earlier. To-day I am a man, and, in the eyes of the world, responsible for my actions. To myself, also, I owe duties, and the first of these is to terminate this constant agitation in which I live. I will do so, trusting to your infinite goodness if I appear guilty of presumption.

"Miss Norman, I love you. I cannot know whether that word carries to your ears the same sense which it has for mine, but, as I write it, I wish to express a passion omnipotent, unending, holy, the voice of which is, in its briefest utterance, a revelation of unknown worlds, an unveiling of the mystery of life. When first I saw you in the studio I was taken captive by your loveliness; since I have been permitted some insight into your mind what I have discovered there has filled me with unspeakable admiration, has led me to feel that happiness cannot exist except in your presence and in the sight of your smile. I should try vainly to express in words the emotions excited in me by the sound of your voice, by the touch of your hand, by the mere thought of your exquisite beauty. But, believe me, there is not one among these feelings which is not sanctified by the purity of its object. I can say with truth that my love for you has made me a better man, with higher aims, purer motives, richer thoughts. For this alone it would be my duty to thank you, as I do momently with the utmost fervour of my being.

"But it is the nature of love to seek for love in return, without that it must fall short of its highest power and lack some portion of its utmost beauty. And it is on this account that I have chosen to write rather than to speak. I could not -- no, I could not bear to hear you repel me with a cold answer; the agony would be insupportable. To be told by you that I was guilty of unwarrantable boldness, that I had presumed upon your good-natured friendship to insult you by an offer of my love -- that I do not think I could hear and live. But yet you would not reply to me in such words, your goodness would forbid it. You would feel for me, and would show me the madness of my conduct in kind, gentle words. And am I not right in supposing that it would give you pain to have to speak even so; you, who think of nothing but how to spare your fellow-creatures suffering? So it is better that I should write. Then if you scorn me you can tell me so in a few brief plainly-written words -- and then an end.

"If you scorn me! It is well to be prepared for the worst, and so I have for a moment supposed that you will read my letter with pained surprise and, perhaps pity my folly. But it would be an imputation on the sincerity of my love if I had in reality no better hope than this. Hope cannot be separated from love, as neither can it from any one of the best impulses of our nature. Yes, I have the boldness to hope! Sincere love is so precious a thing that he who possesses it cannot reckon himself altogether poor, altogether beneath respect. I know but too well that in the eyes of the world I am infinitely beneath you, for, though my birth was not mean, my life has been one of toil and poverty. But am I not right in thinking that, in the clear mirror of your mind, all these social conventionalities assume their true proportions? I should do you much wrong, I feel sure, if I did not believe you capable of distinguishing the nature from the outward form, if I thought you allowed yourself to be bound in the slightest degree by those bonds of foolish prejudice to which weak and vulgar minds so readily, even joyfully, submit themselves. I might urge that my father was a most intimate friend of your father, and that thus we are in some degree related; but I had rather you thought of me as I am in myself, of my nature pure and simple in so far as you know it or can read it in these confessions. As such, then, I once more declare that I love you, truly, passionately, and I ask you whether it is possible for you ever to respond to my affection? Perhaps you may not think so now, but do not, I entreat you, do not reply to me with a hasty negative! Could I think that you felt but the least affection for me, my joy would be almost too great to bear; but that I dare not ask for. At some distance of time, in a year, in two years, might I hope by unceasing devotion to win you? I shall labour unwearyingly at art, and such efforts as I shall make, added to a natural disposition which I feel that I have, cannot but result in some success. If I made a name, if my pictures came to be acknowledged as worthy of attention -- should I then be hopelessly below you? Yes, yes, I know too well that I shall always be unspeakably your inferior in the highest qualities of the heart and mind; but shall I be unworthy of your love? Oh, how I will labour to deserve you! As others strive after what they call their salvation, with just such a passionate striving, nay, with one unspeakably mightier and more unfaltering, shall I work upwards to the heights where you stand. For will you not indeed be my salvation, in a truer sense than that heaven in which I know neither of us put our trust? If I win you, I shall have won a joy which will alone render life worth living. Your love would give significance to an existence of which I am too often tempted to despair. With your hand in mine I could say that I had conquered the world in the attainment of perfect happiness.

"I can write no more. The passion with which I thus offer you my soul has made my hands tremble and my mind fail. I shall send this letter to you early in the morning by some messenger, together with the drawings. I shall soon know whether in thus addressing you I have for ever forfeited your friendship. If so, I bid you farewell with a thousand blessings! I have fulfilled my fate.

"Arthur Golding."

This letter carefully folded in an envelope and directed to Miss Norman, Arthur lay down to rest. Though physically weary, his mind was still unusually active, which rendered it impossible for him to sleep. For some hours more he read in Helen's book, till at length, just as the last ember in the grate was extinguished, he felt drowsiness creep over him. His dreams were of Helen, whom he had transformed into Juliet, and whom, as Romeo, he addressed in impassioned verse. He felt the soft warm pressure of her hands clasping his, and thrilled as the delicious fragrance of her breath wandered over his hair and his cheeks. Then it seemed to him, still following the play, that he heard the Nurse's voice calling to Juliet, and it aroused in him a sense of the utmost impatience. Still the Nurse called, and, just as he was embracing Juliet ere she ran from him, he awoke.

The calling had not been entirely imaginary, for as he came to his senses he perceived that some one was knocking loudly at the door, and calling his name. He at once recognised Mr. Venning's voice, and replied.

"A large parcel has just been left here for you, Mr. Golding," said Mr. Venning. "I will put it down outside the door. Bye-the-by, do you know what the time is?"

Arthur saw that there was bright sunshine outside; evidently it was broad day.

"I have no idea," he replied.

"After ten o'clock. Haven't you had an unusually good night?"

"I went to bed very late," replied Arthur.

Mr. Venning withdrew, and at once Arthur opened the door, burning with impatience to see what the packet could contain, and wondering extremely whence it had come. It was a large brown-paper parcel, and rather heavy. In a moment he tore it open, and at once his eyes were greeted with a wonderful sight. There was an extremely large box of oil-colours, together with all the appurtenances necessary for painting, including half-a-dozen small canvases. It was a spectacle to make a young artist's mouth water. Inside the lid of the case was a folded sheet of notepaper, which bore these words:

	"A faint acknowledgment of the many beautiful drawings I have received from Mr. Golding.

"Helen Norman."

	Arthur's heart leaped almost to bursting as he read this at a glance; then he pressed the paper madly to his lips, whilst the room swam before him. For a moment he was obliged to seat himself upon the bed, fearing lest his emotions should deprive him of consciousness. It was many minutes before he recovered calmness enough to thoroughly examine his present, and then, as he did so, he kept exclaiming to himself, "She did not forget -- she did not forget."

Should he add any intimation of having received this to the letter he was now about to despatch? On deliberation he decided not to do so. Who could tell what kind of answer he should receive? This delightful present had excited hopes in his mind which he had hitherto scarcely dared to harbour. Possibly he might have to thank her with his own mouth; if not, it would not be too late to write.

He was in a slight difficulty as to the means of sending his little parcel, it being Sunday, and no available messenger at hand. But, as it was getting late, he soon determined upon the method to be pursued. Hastily completing his toilet, and making a cup of coffee suffice for his breakfast, he left the house, with the drawings and letter in his hand, and walked quickly in the direction of Highbury. When within sight of Helen's house he had no difficulty in securing the services of a decent-looking child who happened to be passing, and whom he watched as she entered the holly-hid garden. In a few minutes the messenger returned, gave a satisfactory report, and received the promised fee.

And now Arthur looked forward in a state of mind bordering on distraction to the hours, perhaps the days, which were to elapse before he could expect to receive an answer. Instead of returning home, where the quietness of the room would have been intolerable to him, he took advantage of the fine sharp morning to have a long walk. Where he went mattered little, but it was necessary for him to be active, to keep pace in bodily exertion with the hurrying current of his thoughts. These thoughts were infinitely varied in hue, at times black with the shadow of despair, at times glowing in the full radiance of passionate hope. Once or twice he was checked in the midst of a rapturous portrayal of the future by a cold breath of doubt and fear chilling his soul as he remembered that in sending that letter to Helen he had been guilty of a crime. There would arise within him comforters in the shape of hopes and calculations for harbouring which he detested himself. From self-loathing was born irritation, then passionate anger against the decrees of fate. Why should a moment's folly, long since seen and regretted, compel him to a life of wretchedness, to the renunciation of delights such as it is given to few of earth's inhabitants to enjoy? He was angry with himself for being so foolish as to find anything wrong in the step he had taken. Long since he had committed the one great error of his life, and was it not right that he should do his utmost to obliterate it from his memory, to strike himself free from its miserable consequences? Even if he should be so happy as to win some return for his love, he could not hope to attain its object for some indefinite time, say, till he had won a name as an artist; and before then what might not happen? And the hopes for which he cursed himself came back in full strength upon him. It was impossible for Carrie to lead her present life long without sinking into the depths of degradation; if her favourite vice continued to grow upon her, as doubtless it did, it would not be long before she drank herself to death. He knew well that, if she desired to do so, nothing would be easier than for her to discover him, and he looked forward with dread to a repetition of demands upon him such as that lately made. On the day after he had seen Mrs. Hemp he had received a letter from Mark Challenger, stating that an aunt of Carrie's had called upon Mark and had been directed to Arthur's abode. Upon reading this, he had conceived uneasy suspicions, which, however, for the sake of his own peace, he had dismissed from his mind and refused to be troubled by. In youth, and especially when under the power of strong and delightful emotions, we possess a wonderful power of contenting ourselves with the bright face of things, and putting off all gloomier considerations to some indefinite morrow. And this was what Arthur did now, despite the serious nature of his forebodings. He refused to be cast down, he asserted his right to enjoy life, to drink deep of the sweetest joys which the world has to offer. Troubles might come, but they would be dealt with in their time. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.

Doubtless the clear sunshine and the sharp air of the March morning had much to do with sustaining this hopeful mood. Scarcely knowing what direction he took, he had walked continuously westward as far as Hampstead Road, and then, following the track which had grown familiar to him from walks with Mr. Tollady, he pressed on as far as Hampstead Heath. Thence he went round by Highgate. As he passed the cemetery, he did not even think of the friend who lay there. His thoughts were with the future to-day, not with the past; life had more to teach him now than death. Already the afternoon was far advanced when he began once more to draw near to the city. It was his custom on Sunday to dine with the Vennings, but their dinner-hour was one o'clock, and he was glad to have missed it. But as the brisk walk had given him a keen appetite, he turned into a coffee-house, and there satisfied his hunger before going home.

As he had hoped to do, he gained his room without being met or questioned. Here he again began to gloat over his beautiful present, again pressed the note a thousand times to his lips, repeating Helen's name in every variety of low impassioned tone. Thus he whiled away the hour which remained before the approach of darkness. When at length the shadows began to deepen in the room, and the rays from the fire began to play upon the ceiling with a warmer glow, he lit his lamp and drew down his blind, and sat down with the intention of forcing himself to read.

Scarcely had he done so when he heard footsteps ascending the stairs. As if in obedience to a mysterious impulse he started to his feet. The steps paused, and a gentle knock came at his door. In a moment he had opened it. Lucy Venning stood there holding a letter in her hand.

"This has been left for you, Mr. Golding," she said.

Arthur looked hastily at the envelope. It had no address.

"Was any message left with it?" he asked, playing with the letter, and affecting to speak calmly.

"No. Some stranger left it."

He was left alone, and could read the letter at his ease. Aye, but it must first be opened, and to do so demanded a firmness of resolution which he could not at once command. He never doubted from whom it came, but the contents -- what might they be? Was he to be exalted to a heaven of delight, or plunged into a hell of anguish and despair? The conflict lasted two minutes, and appeared to him to have endured almost an hour. Then he tore the envelope violently open, read at a glance all that it contained, and threw up his arms with a cry of joy.


"Come to me at once. I am alone this evening."
	That was all, but it said more than all the eloquence which tongue of orator ever poured forth. In a moment Arthur was ready. His was no dandy love. He could not pose for half-an-hour before a glass before venturing to present himself to his mistress. He flew rather than walked over the distance between his home and Helen's, and, on arriving before the house, was obliged to pause before he could approach the door and ring. For a moment he endured intolerable agony -- a physical pain which scarcely left him strength to stand. The next he pressed both hands firmly against his heart, breathed less quickly, and rang the bell.

He was conscious of nothing till he found himself standing in the drawing-room, where the lustre of the modest chandelier seemed to dazzle him, and render him incapable of seeing. He heard the door closed behind him, and, as his senses undazzled, he at length saw Helen walking towards him, with her hand extended. He took it, pressed it slightly, and released it.

"I feel rather tired and not quite well this evening," she said, in a very low tone. "Take this chair by me and let us talk quietly."

For the first time he looked into her face, and saw that it was deadly pale. She trembled, too, and he could see her bosom heaving as though it cost her efforts to breathe.

"You are ill!" he exclaimed anxiously. "Miss Norman, why are you so disturbed? Am I the cause of this suffering?"

"No, no!" she panted, whilst her eyes suddenly filled with tears, and the colour came and went in her cheeks. "I am not ill -- it is nothing -- you have made me too happy!"

The last words were broken by hysterical sobs. She took one step towards him, and faltered as if about to faint. He held out his arms to support her, and the next moment she was pressed to his heart.

"Is it true? Is it true?" he whispered passionately. "Can you love me? -- Helen, dear Helen!"

"Yes, Arthur, it is true!" she whispered in reply, and, raising her head from his bosom with a motion of exquisite grace and simplicity which no words can describe, offered him her lips.

They sat down side by side upon the sofa, and for many minutes neither spoke. For Arthur there was no consciousness save of the pressure of her head upon his shoulder, save of the beating of her heart against his side. For him there was no outer world; they two in themselves formed a universe -- two all-embracing souls melting into one. It was as though he had been smitten blind by looking too closely in a wondrous sun of joy, he could see nothing save a shapeless glow of warm light, not even the face of his beloved. It was her voice which first broke the silence, and his heart throbbed to the tones as if in echo to celestial music.

"You have made me too, too happy," she said, raising herself, and looking into his face with a ravishing smile. "And yet you have made me feel my weaknesses, feel that I have a woman's heart which naturally yearns for the support of one stronger than itself. I cannot understand it. Since I read your letter I have felt as I never did before. Till now I have lived a very lonely life, dependent upon no one but myself, since I had no one to whom I could appeal in troubles of the mind or heart. I had come to regard myself as destined to this perpetual loneliness, and had almost succeeded in strengthening myself to face the prospect; but how often have I passionately wished that my fate had been a different one, more like the lot of ordinary women, who from their earliest years regard themselves as dependent upon the protection and subject to the guidance of stronger natures. And when I read your, oh how welcome letter, it was as though I had renounced self-guidance for ever. I was weaker than water, in both mind and body. Scarcely had I strength to write you the reply. My whole being seemed at once concentrated in one desire -- to fall before your feet and call you my master. Can you understand this entire abnegation of self, this passion to annihilate one's own being in that of another?"

"Can I understand, dearest?" he replied. "It is as though you asked me whether I really love you. All that you express I have myself felt. In future I would have no independent life. I would exist only in you."

"Arthur," she continued, after a pause, "confess that you have read my love long since; that you knew I was yours if you asked me to be so; that the doubt in your letter was only feigned. Since the morning I have been distressed with all manner of fears. I feared that you should think me too open in my behaviour towards you; that I took too little pains to conceal what I felt; that I too boldly encouraged you. Have you ever conceived such thoughts, Arthur? Another would have stood more upon her dignity, would have been more careful of conventionalities than I. But I am not conscious of having done anything immodest. I loved you, daily more and more loved you, and feared -- oh, how I feared! -- lest you should never return my love, lest you should fail to see what I felt for you. Could I do otherwise than I did? How could I gain my end otherwise than by showing you what interest I took in your work, your hopes, your doubts? Do you think even this confession too unmaidenly? No, no; you cannot think so, Arthur! If a woman loves, why should she submit to have her heart rent by despair rather than permit herself to take one step towards the attainment of her end? To such social codes I can owe no allegiance. In so much I have dared to think for myself, and why not in this?"

"Oh, I know but too well," replied Arthur, "that you never overpassed the boundaries of friendship. For your friendship I was infinitely grateful; but, believe me, I did not dare to hope that it could conceal a warmer feeling."

"Not even when you received my present this morning?" asked Helen, smiling; "for I suppose you did receive it?"

"I did, and felt a joy only less than that your summons caused me. But no, upon that I did not dare to build hopes, for I knew that your goodness was inexhaustible, and that you would lose no opportunity of giving pleasure even to your humblest friend. But now I know that only a heart which beat as one with mine could have divined the gift which would give me the most delight."

Again their lips met, and again ensued a period of silent happiness.

"Helen," said Arthur, at length, "in one thing alone you displease me. Can you guess what that is?"

She looked up at him with pained surprise.

"Oh," he resumed, "how I wish that you were poor! Could I have taken you to my heart with all your perfections, but lacking this burden of wealth, how perfectly happy should I be! What would I give to know the joy of working for you, the delight, which every poor man can experience, of feeling his wife dependent upon him, of doing everything for her sake! But for you I can do nothing. Who can tell how long I must wait before I can ask you to be my wife, and at the same time offer you a worthy home?"

"You are unjust to me, Arthur!" she replied. "You wish to have all the pleasure to yourself. Do you think I regard this wealth of mine as any hindrance to our union? Surely, surely you see the world with clearer eyes than that. Because chance has given me wealth, whilst the same chance has made you poor, should that be a barrier between us? But for your unhappy lot you might at this moment have been sharing it all as my brother. I am three months younger than you, Arthur. In three months I shall be free from my guardian, and mistress of my own conduct. When that day comes, whether you are rich or poor is nothing to me; if you will take me for your wife, I am yours."

"I dare not look forward to it!" exclaimed Arthur. "I must grow accustomed to your love to believe that it is real. But shall I not often see you? No, no; it will be impossible. Though we may scorn the world's opinion, we must still fear its tongue. I must guard you against all manner of foolish or malicious misconstruction."

"We must be prudent, dearest," she returned, "for both our sakes. If we cannot see each other as often as we wish, we can at least write. Yes, I will write you often, send you my whole heart in letters. It will be a new experience for me, a fresh, inexhaustible, life-giving delight! Oh, I shall tire you with my confidences!"

"Never, dearest!" he replied, whilst deep earnestness of love flashed out of his fair eyes as they met hers. "I, too, shall have an infinity of things to tell you. There is within me a whole world of thought and feeling which I had never suspected till love made me conscious of it. What exquisite joy will it be to share with you all my hopes and achievements! If anything can make me an artist, Helen, your love will do so."

A peculiar smile rose to her face as she heard these words.

"Shall I tell you," she asked, "of a discovery I made long ago, not so very long after we first saw each other in London, something which startled me not disagreeably at the time, and to which my thoughts have frequently recurred for consolation, though a slight one, when I have feared lest you regarded me in no other light than as a friend?"

He looked at her questioningly, wondering much what she could refer to.

"You would never guess," she continued, "so I must tell you. One day I paid a visit to Mr. Tollady, and he showed me a great number of your drawings. They astonished me, Arthur, for indeed many of them were extremely beautiful, and wonderful as the production of a self-trained artist. We must look over them all, both together, and you will tell me how they were suggested, and when they were done. But among them, though carefully put in a portfolio by itself, was a portrait. How and when the portrait was drawn I could have no idea, but I thought I knew the face, and Mr. Tollady, who seemed as surprised as myself, recognised it too."

"You saw it!" exclaimed Arthur, eagerly. "Oh, it was not worthy to be seen by you, so infinitely less beautiful than the original! I drew it from memory, because your image even then haunted me in my room as I sat drawing, and I could not rest till I had made a feeble copy. But such as it was I prized it more dearly than any other possession. Now I never sit down to work without having it hanging before me. As I look into its eyes I feel they speak encouragement to me. Oh, dearest, I should be ashamed to repeat to you all the fond, passionate, endearing words which I have addressed to your picture. Had I never had courage to tell you of my love I should yet have continued to worship before that idol to the end of my life."

"I am not worthy of such devotion, Arthur," replied Helen, blushing deeply, whilst delight mirrored itself in her moist eyes. "How shall I ever repay it?"

"One word of affection, one slight look of tenderness from you, love," whispered Arthur, passionately, "would repay the devotion of my life. Oh, I am too happy! I cannot believe it! Helen, Helen!"

He sank back pale and exhausted with emotion, and, in the excess of her happiness, Helen's tears fell fast upon his hand which she held pressed against her heart. After a long silence she looked round at the clock upon the mantel-piece, and a shadow passed over her face.

"You must leave me, Arthur," she said, rising. "Any moment now we may be disturbed. I must have time, too, to bring back the wonted common-place expression to my features, for I am sure my eyes betray my happiness. You will write to me, Arthur? Soon?"

"And you to me, dearest?" he replied, rising with a sigh. "It is dreadful to have to leave you so soon. But shall I never see you? I cannot live without seeing you, now that I have once tasted the sweetness of your love. I must see you sometimes!"

Helen stood with her eyes fixed upon the floor, and a slight blush rose to her cheek when she at length spoke.

"You know me better, Arthur," she said, "than to misjudge my motives in wishing to preserve secrecy for the present? All my nearest connections are in reality strangers to me; I have no sympathy with them, nor they with me. In particular the lady who lives with me here, as a sort of guardian for me, is possessed of the greatest share of curiosity and meddlesomeness that is possible for human being to have. But there is one friend in whom I can place full confidence, and whose true and simple heart is the most natural repository for a secret such as ours. If I told Lucy Venning, she might enable us to see each other sometimes at her father's house."

"Yes," exclaimed Arthur, "no one could help us more than Lucy."

"I will tell her to-night when she returns," said Helen, blushing and smiling. "Confession is notoriously good for the soul, and it would be well if no one ever confessed to a less guileless being than Lucy."

Arthur took both her hands, and strove to find words in which to say adieu.

"I have forgotten to thank you for your pictures," said Helen; "that which accompanied them at once drove them from my mind. But they are admirable. I am proud of you, Arthur."

She raised her lips to his with an expression of the sweetest simplicity and devotion, and, as they met, she felt herself drawn towards him and pressed in a long, silent embrace.





CHAPTER XI

WHOM GOD HATH JOINED

It would not be easy to describe Arthur's state of mind as he returned homewards this Sunday night. Incapable of reflection, he reacted over and over again in his mind, with mechanical persistency, the scenes of the evening, and continued to intoxicate his senses by dwelling upon each fond word, each caress, each passionate look which he had given or received. The tumultuous character of his thoughts rendered him unconscious of all outward circumstances. Instinct alone guided him in the right direction homewards, and when he arrived before the house he could scarcely realise that he had walked all the way from Highbury.

He had drawn his latch-key from his pocket and was on the point of inserting it in the lock, when he became conscious of someone standing close behind him. Nervous from his excitement, he turned quickly round. He then saw that he was standing face to face with a girl whose shabby dress of worn-out finery was sufficient to indicate her character. At first the darkness prevented him from seeing her face, but there was something in her form and position to which his memory responded with the startling suddenness of a lightning-flash. His heart, a moment before so hot and bounding, seemed chilled to ice in his breast and checked his breathing as with a heavy load. A cold sweat broke out upon his forehead; he became deadly faint, and, had he not stretched out his hand to the wall, he would have fallen. It was as though some terrible supernatural shape had come before him in the darkness, and had pronounced his doom.

Though he opened his lips to speak no sound issued from them. He tried to move away from the door, but had not the strength to stir. The silence was first broken by the girl herself, who moved nearer to him, and said, "Arthur, don't you know me?"

He knew her but too well, and his eyes by degrees perceived all the lineaments of her face; he shuddered at the dreadful change wrought in her once beautiful features by so short a period of vice and misery. Her cheeks had become hollow, and looked all the more ghastly for the traces of artificial colour still evident upon them; her eyes were red and bleared, with livid circles round them; her hair, cut short across her forehead, gave her a wanton, abandoned look; and the way in which she constantly shivered showed that her thin dress of vulgar frippery was almost the only clothing she had to protect her against the keen night air. For all that he knew her only too well, and not the soul of Belshazzar, when the finger wrote ruin upon the walls of his festive chamber, experienced a deeper revulsion of anguish than Arthur in this moment suffered.

Mechanically, he beckoned to her, and she followed him some distance into a by-street where there was no chance of his being observed by anyone that knew him. In the shadow of a lofty warehouse he stopped, and again faced her.

"Was it by chance you met me?" he asked, avoiding meeting her gaze.

"No," she replied, searching his face for a glimpse of the old kindness, but seeing nothing save pale resolution. "I found out where you lived from Mr. Challenger, for I wanted to speak to you very much."

"You had not asked for me at the house?"

"Yes, I had," she replied, after a moment's hesitation. "They told me you were out, and they did not know when you would be back. I was bound to see you to-night, so I waited near the door."

"Did you tell them who you were?" asked Arthur, forcing his tongue to utter the question, though it was in the most fearful suspense that he awaited the answer.

"No," said Carrie, "I only said as I wanted to see you -- upon my oath, that was all! I was bound to see you tonight."

"And why? What do you want?"

In his momentary relief at her reply, he had spoken these words with more of harsh sternness than he intended. She shrank back from him as though he had struck her, and burst into tears.

"Don't speak so hard to me, Arthur," she sobbed, leaning her head against the cold damp wall and covering her face with her hands. "Don't speak so hard to me. You wouldn't if you knew what I've gone through. I've been ill in bed for more than a week; and because I couldn't pay nothing they've taken all my clothes from me. I know as I oughtn't to be out at night now; I'm too weak still; it may be the death of me. And I came to see you and tell you this, and to ask you if you'd help me a little, just a little. You was kind to me once, Arthur, and you used to say as you loved me!"

Loved her! With mingled pity, remorse, and horror he heard her utter the words which that evening had been so sanctified to him, and was compelled to own that she spoke the truth. Yes; though he now shuddered in looking at her, though he drew back from her lest his hand, fresh from the clasp of Helen's, should be soiled by the mere touch of hers, though the intervening sorrows and joys had removed to what seemed a distance of centuries those nights when he had watched beneath her window and been agonised by thought she might be unfaithful to him -- for all that he could not forget that he had so watched, that her mere presence had once brought him ineffable delight, that he had kissed her lips and praised her beauty, in short that he had loved her. Love! Love! Could he use the same word to express the excitement of the senses which Carrie Mitchell's prettiness had once had power to cause, and that holy passion which, ignited by the hand of Helen Norman, burned like a pure, unquenchable flame upon the altar of his heart? How he scorned his past self; surely he was another being now, with other thoughts, other feelings. And yet she stood there before him, sobbing with her head against the wall, shivering at every keener blast which swept along the dark street, and told him that he had loved her. His heart would indeed have been of iron had it failed to soften to the appeal of such a crushed and suffering creature. So keen was his compassion that he could have joined in her tears, and yet it was nothing more than compassion. No faintest spark of any warmer feeling lived within him. Save that she could appeal to bitter memories common to both of them, she was no more to him than any other wretched outcast starving in the streets.

"We mustn't talk of that, Carrie," he said, wondering as he spoke at the different sound the name had now to his ears than when first he learned to use it. "It is useless to remember it; let us talk as if it all never happened. You say you wanted to ask me for help. What do you mean by help? Do you mean you want money from me to enable you to buy fresh dresses and to go back to the old life?"

"No, no!" she exclaimed, eagerly, raising her tear-stained face. "Upon my soul, I don't want it for that! I've done with that! I've done with it all for good! I've been thinking whilst I've been ill in bed that, if ever I lived to get up again, I'd never go back to that life. I hate it. It's killing me fast, I know; I often wish as you'd let me die in the snow -- that night as you found me. It would have been much better, so much better."

"What do you intend to do, then?"

"If I had enough to buy a little better clothing, I'd go and get work. I'm not very strong now, but that doesn't matter; I'd rather work my fingers to the bone at some honest business than go back again to the streets. I know I haven't no right to ask you for anything, Arthur. When you was kind and good to me I didn't know the value of it, and all as you did for my good worried me and made me wish for a freer life, like. But I've seen enough since then to make me wish as I'd never left you, Arthur. I know as I gave you a great deal of pain, but you mustn't think of it. You must try and forgive me, for you shall never see me again; I promise you never shall. I shouldn't have come to you now if I hadn't been helpless and like to die in the streets for the want of something to eat. None of those people as I've been with knows as I was married. I wouldn't tell them, Arthur, for fear some one might hear it as knew you; I never would."

"And yet," returned Arthur, after a slight pause, "you sent a woman to me with a letter asking me to pay some rent for you. Do you forget that?"

Carrie stared at him in perfectly natural surprise.

"I don't know what you mean," she said.

"Didn't you recommend a landlady of yours to apply to me for money you couldn't pay her?"

"Never! Upon my soul, never, Arthur."

"Then I was deceived," he replied, searching her face keenly. "She brought a letter as if written by you. I felt sure it was your writing."

"What was her name?" asked Carrie, quickly.

"Mrs. Hemp," replied Arthur, after a moment's reflection.

"So help me God!" exclaimed the girl, "I never told Polly Hemp as I had a husband. Did she come and get money from you?"

"She did. I was foolish enough to believe her tale and to pay her."

"I never knew; upon my soul I never knew!" cried the wretched girl, again bursting into tears. "But you won't believe me, Arthur. It was my only comfort all through my wretchedness that I had never said a word of you. My God! How I wish I was dead!"

"If you tell me that I was deceived, Carrie," said Arthur, profoundly moved by her despair, "I of course believe you. I didn't like the woman's appearance, and I can easily believe what you say."

"You believe me?" she asked, checking her violent sobs. "That's all I want, Arthur. I can't bear you to think me altogether bad, and upon my soul I'm telling you the truth. I wasn't so bad once, but it's drink as has done for me. Oh, I'm so cold. Go away, Arthur; go home and don't think no more of me. I'll go and see if they'll take me in at the workhouse, and if they won't, I shall find some way of putting an end to my wretched life. Oh, my God! my God! how cold it is!"

She crossed her arms upon her breast and seemed to be endeavouring to warm herself, all the while muttering to herself and sobbing. Arthur was pierced with compassion, which he was, however, unable to express. Words of comfort seemed unmeaning before such wretchedness as this. There was only one way in which he could help her, and the sooner he put an end to this painful interview the better for both.

"If I gave you money to pay for a lodging," he asked, "would you know where to find one?"

"Oh yes," she replied, "I could easy do that."

"And you promise me that you would use it in a proper way?"

"Oh yes, yes! So help me God, I would!"

At the beginning of the interview, Arthur had done his utmost to harden his heart against her, and, in his own interests, to leave her to her fate. But this had been only a momentary purpose. Such cruelty was impossible to his nature, and then reflection told him that to drive her to despair would most likely be the very way to awaken all her worst passions and to cause her to ceaselessly persecute him. He had not been at all prepared for the self-reproachful mood which the girl had shown, her suffering and repentance had touched him inexpressibly. But to do more for her than to give her the means of subsisting for a few days till she could find employment, if indeed it was her purpose to do so, was impossible. It must not be thought that he had not likewise his feelings of bitter self-reproach. Had he been free, had not this day been the commencement for him of an era of hope and bliss unspeakable, against the endurance of which Carrie's very existence was a threat, then indeed he might have acted very differently towards her. He had to make his choice between her and Helen, but he never for a moment wavered in his determination. He suffered severely, he could not bear to look into the miserable girl's face, and his conscience never ceased to whisper to him that he was committing a cruel wrong. Who could tell whether, even at this eleventh hour, the influence of constant kindness, the prospect of a quiet and comfortable home, might not suffice to save her? But he was not hero enough to sacrifice his life in order to save hers. Had she come to him with a brazen face and made mercenary propositions without shame or disguise, he could have either acceded or refused as his discretion led him, and without remorse of conscience. But, as it was, to give her only what she begged, mere charity, cost him terrible pangs. Already the dark shadow of clouds had encroached upon the visioned heaven of his future; he knew as he stood face to face with this miserable outcast, who was yet his wife, that what he was now about to do would haunt him till his last day. He knew it, yet he could not relinquish at once so vast a treasure as Helen Norman's love. Better to die than to do so.

For about a minute they stood in silence, whilst these thoughts fermented within his brain. At length he spoke in the tone of one who had taken his part.

"I have no money with me," he said; "will you wait here whilst I fetch some from the house?"

She nodded in acquiescence, and he left her. Within five minutes he returned.

"I am not rich," he said, as he dropped some gold coins into her hand. "This is all I have, and I must borrow for my own necessities till I am paid again. Will it be enough for you?"

"Quite enough, quite enough," she replied. "I shall be able to get into a new life with it. I knew as you'd help me, Arthur."

"I hope you will do all you say with it," he continued, forcing himself to speak in unbroken tones. "But I give it to you on one condition, Carrie. We must never see each other again."

"No, no; never again," she sobbed. "I know as we oughtn't never to have met, and though I might once have lived happy with you, that is all over now. I shouldn't have come to you to-night, Arthur, if I hadn't been forced to, indeed I never should. Never as long as I live shall you see me again."

He endeavoured to say good-bye, but the word stuck in his throat, he could not speak. Neither could he give her his hand. She did not seem to expect either, but, muttering a few words of thanks, hurried away into the darkness, leaving Arthur to his remorse.

Driven by supreme misery to one desperate attempt to free herself from the slough of a vicious life, Carrie had been perfectly sincere in all she said to Arthur. Oppressed by hunger, cold, and the results of a brief but violent fever, she had experienced a fit of bitter repentance such as had never before visited her. No degree of self-humiliation was too deep for her whilst in this mood, and, remembering with unwonted vividness all Arthur's past kindness to her, she felt humbly grateful for the help he had rendered her. She did not look for more. At this moment the distance between herself and him she had called her husband seemed infinite. It is probable that few of her miserable class are without better intervals in which they realise with fearful pain the full extent of their degradation; and such a reaction it was from which poor Carrie was at present suffering.

Leaving Arthur, she went straightway to the only decent lodging-house in which she felt sure she might be received. This was that kept by the woman, Mrs. Pole, somewhere in Soho. Carrie knew nothing of the acquaintance existing between Mrs. Pole and Polly Hemp, and as in the circle of the social hell to which this poor girl had fallen, virtue is in a most emphatic sense merely comparative, she looked up to the former as to a model of propriety. Mrs. Pole was a drunken, low-minded, sensual creature, but yet she managed to keep a moderately respectable house, probably because experience had convinced her that it was most profitable in the end to do so.

As Carrie hurried along the cold streets, clasping the coins tight in her hand, numerous were the temptations which beset her. It is not easy for ordinary people to realise the agony of inward strife with which a nature, which has accustomed itself to limitless indulgence in any vice, struggles for the first time to throw off its allegiance to the tempter and follow the voice of reason. Every flaring gin-palace which she passed called to her with accents sweeter and more tempting than those of the sirens, and when, as often occurred, she found herself between two such places, one on either side of the street, it became a veritable struggle as between Scylla and Charybdis. She walked, when it was possible, along the middle of the streets, looking straight before her, that she might not see the inside of the bars, or scent the odour of drink which steams forth whenever a drunkard reels in or out of these temples of the Furies. She was so terribly cold; how one small glass of spirits would have warmed her. But by the exertion of marvellous resolution she escaped the danger. Arriving at Mrs. Pole's house, she found that she had not miscalculated the woman's temper. A trifle surly to begin with, when she thought that Carrie had come to beg for charity, she soon brightened up at the sight of the money. Carrie wanted a room? Of course; nothing could be easier. She happened to have a delightful little room empty. And Carrie rested that night with a more untroubled slumber than she had known for many wretched months.

Exactly a week after this, on the Sunday afternoon, Mrs. Pole's kitchen was the scene of a rather interesting conversation, the conversers being the landlady herself and her occasional visitor, Polly Hemp. They sat, one on each side of the fire, in large round-backed chairs, for both were somewhat portly in shape, and fond of sitting at their ease. There was a blazing fire in the grate, which, as evening was coming on, did more to diffuse light through the room than the grated window looking up through another grating into the murky street. The kitchen was stone-paved, the stones being only hidden here and there by a rag of carpet, but one or two large mahogany dressers, together with an oaken press, a crockery-cupboard, and some other articles of substantial appearance, gave the room an air of moderate comfort. On the table, close by the elbows of both women, stood sundry jugs and bottles, as well as two glasses more or less full of a steaming liquor, from which they constantly took draughts to clear their throats. The two faces were a study for Hogarth: that of Polly Hemp, round, fair, marked with an incomparably vicious smile, the nose very thin and well-shaped, the lips brutally sensual, the forehead narrow and receding; that of Mrs. Pole altogether coarser and more vulgar, the nose swollen at the end and red, the mouth bestial and sullen, the eyes watery and somewhat inflamed, the chin marked by a slight growth of reddish hair. At the present moment both faces, different as were their outlines, vied in giving expression to the meanest phase of the meanest vice, that of avarice. In Mrs. Pole's face the passion showed itself in every lineament; in Polly Hemp's it gleamed only from the eyes. The latter was more skilled in concealing her designs than the lodging-house keeper.

"And how d'ye know as she's here?" asked Mrs. Pole, at the moment when we begin to overhear their conversation. "That's what I want to know. 'Ow d'ye know it, Mrs. Hemp?"

"Well, if you must know," replied the other, sipping her liquor, "'tain't so hard to explain. One o' my girls see her comin' out, and come and told me. Do you understand?"

Mrs. Pole was silent for a minute, apparently revolving something in her mind.

"Well, and what next, Mrs. Hemp?" she asked at length. "I s'pose as I can 'ev what lodgers I like in my 'ouse, eh?"

"Of course you can, Mrs. Pole," replied Polly, with much good-humour. "You don't understand me right. I only come as a old friend of Carrie's to arst her how she gets on. It's a sort of friendly interest, that's all."

"I hain't in the 'abit of hinquirin' much into my lodgers' affairs," returned Mrs. Pole. "She gets on well enough for all I know."

"May be she isn't in now, Mrs. Pole?"

"I don't think as 'ow she is, Mrs. Hemp."

"Do you think she'll stay long with you, Mrs. Pole?"

"I don't know no cause why she shouldn't," replied the woman.

There was again a brief silence, during which both drank from their glasses, directing one eye on the liquor, one upon each other. And the expression in the eyes which performed the latter part was indescribable.

"You don't happen to know, Mrs. Pole," resumed Polly at length, "whether she's seen her 'usband lately, eh?"

Mrs. Pole shook her head.

"Well, I do," continued Polly, closing one eye and looking shrewdly with the other.

"You do, eh?" inquired Mrs. Pole, a little startled.

"And shall I tell you how, Mrs. Pole?" went on Polly, winking and smiling. "The girl as see Carrie comin' out of your house stopped her and had a talk, and Carrie told her as how she'd begun a different kind of life. And when the girl arst her where she got her tin from to pay her lodging -- for she know'd as Carrie went away from me without a blessed farthing -- Carrie out and said as she had a good friend who gave her the money. And if that warn't her husband, I'm a stupid fool!"

For a moment Mrs. Pole looked keenly with her blurred eyes into the other's face, then she pulled her chair a little forward, and bending her body still further forward towards Polly, rested her hands upon the latter's knees.

"Now look 'ere, Mrs. Hemp," she said, in a lower tone than that she had hitherto used. "It ain't easy to come it over you, I can see that. What's the good of us two a beatin' round about the bush in this blessed way? Let's out and say what we mean at wunst. Don't yer think as 'ow it 'ud be much better and straightfor'arder? Eh?"

"I don't know but how it would, Mrs. Pole," replied Polly, taking a sip at her glass, and smacking her lips after it with much satisfaction.

"Well then, look 'ere," pursued Mrs. Pole. "It's clear to me as 'ow we're both wantin' the same thing. I want to keep Carrie in my 'ouse and make money of her; you want to get her back to yourn and make money of her too. Now why can't we do this little business both together, eh? Maybe if we go on workin' agin' each bother we shan't get nothink at hall, either on us; but if we work together we can share. What d'yer think, Mrs. Hemp?"

"I'm agreeable," replied the latter, thinking as she spoke that present compliance might bring her information which she could afterwards apply to her exclusive profit. "I arst nothing better, Mrs. Pole."

"Then I've got a secret to tell yer," said the other woman, still bending forward. "When Carrie come 'ere to my 'ouse larst Sunday night, she 'ed several soverin's in her hand. I couldn't quite hunderstand at the time 'ow she'd got 'em, but as she wanted a room it was none o' my business, yer see, to make myself hinquisitive. But Carrie and me is old friends, and on Monday night she come down into this kitchen to 'ave a bit o' talk. And then she told me as 'ow she was tired of her old doin's -- arsting yer pardon, Mrs. Hemp -- and as she wanted to find some work to keep herself. She wasn't very open like, at first, but I know'd as she liked her drop to drink as well as either me or you, Mrs. Hemp, so I sends out my Jenny for a quartern of Old Tom, and I soon gets her talkin' 'ard enough. An' then I draw'd it all out of her, an' she said as 'ow she'd seen her husband, an' he give her some money, an' then she promised as she wouldn't never see him again."

As she ceased speaking the two exchanged significant smiles.

"And has she found work?" asked Polly Hemp.

"No, she 'asn't been able to find no one as 'll take her. An' worse 'n that. Last night she come 'ome very late, and quite screwed. She couldn't walk upstairs by herself, an' I 'ad to 'elp her up. An' when I'd undressed her and put her i' bed, I took the liberty like of lookin' in her pocket, an' I found she 'edn't a blessed farthin' left. Well, I see her this mornin', an I arst her if it was quite convenient to pay her rent; an' she said as she 'adn't no money; but she'd go an' get some. When I arst her where she'd get it, she wouldn't say. An' now she's been out all day, an' I 'even't seen nothink hof her."

"Then she's gone to her husband again, be sure o' that," said Polly. "I'll tell you what, Mrs. Pole. It's my opinion as that husband of hers is a fool, and anyone can do what they like with him. And we may be quite sure as Carrie knows that too. All this story about getting work and so on, it's all make-up, we may be sure of that. Very like this husband of hem has promised to give her so much a week to have her leave him alone. Most like he's plenty of tin, and doesn't miss it. If we keep our eyes open, Mrs. Pole, this might be a good lay for us."

"I believe you," replied the other, grinning in such a way as to show all the hideous stumps which served her for teeth. The next moment she raised her finger, as if listening to some noise. Polly also became attentive, and heard the front door of the house open and close. Then a voice was heard in the passage above, singing a popular song.

"It's her!" exclaimed Mrs. Pole, rising. "It's Carrie. Shall she come down?"

"May as well," replied Polly. "She's screwed, I know. She only sings when she's screwed."

By this time the voice was sounding nearer, and then steps were heard descending the stone stairs. All at once the singing stopped, and Carrie called out, "Mrs. Pole!"

"Come in, come in!" responded the latter. "No one 'ere."

Carrie obeyed and entered the kitchen. She was dressed in plain but good clothing, the result of a purchase she had made early in the preceding week; but her face indicated only too clearly the wreck of all the good resolutions she had made in the period of her misery. It was flushed in the extreme, and her eyes gleamed with an unnatural light. Her hair had all escaped from its ribbon and hung in magnificent tresses down to her waist. Her hat was crushed and out of place, and she wore only one glove.

"Why, Polly!" she exclaimed, as she walked with an unsteady step into the room and her eyes first fell on her old acquaintance, "what are you doing here? I thought you said you was alone, Mrs. Pole?"

"Oh, I didn't count Mrs. Hemp," replied the woman; "she's an old friend."

"She may be a friend of yours," cried the girl, coming forward and striking with her fist upon the table, "but she's no friend of mine. I let you know it to your face, Polly Hemp; there!"

"What the devil's up now, Carrie?" asked Polly, with affected surprise.

"What's up?" echoed the girl, in a shrill key. "Why, I'd like to know what business you have to be keeping all my dresses and linen, and turning me out of your house without them. You're a thief, Polly, that's what you are; and I'm not the first as has told you so."

"Why, bless the wench," exclaimed Polly, "what's she talking about? Ain't the dresses waiting for her day after day in her own room, if only she'll come and take 'em. Don't you use no hard words to me, Carrie, because I haven't deserved it of you. If it comes to thieving, I'd like to know why you ran away from me before you'd paid the rent as was owing? Eh?"

"Now don't you two get 'avin' words together," interposed Mrs. Pole, whilst Carrie was beginning a shrill and angry reply. "Just sit down, Carrie, there's a good girl, an' 'ave a drop o' somethink 'ot. I know you like it. He, he, he!"

Carrie took up the offered glass in her trembling hand, and drank off its contents at a draught. Then she staggered back into a chair, and remained for some moments in a half-stupefied state, staring vacantly into the fire.

"And 'ave yer brought me my rent, as you promised, Carrie?" asked Mrs. Pole, presently.

"Course I have," replied the girl. "Here! Can -- can you give me change?"

She threw a sovereign on to the table as she spoke.

"I dessay I can find it presently," replied the landlady, taking up the coin and exchanging a meaning smile with Polly Hemp. "But you don't drink. Come, try this."

Carrie needed little temptation to induce her to drink. She had done little else since Saturday morning, and her moods alternated rapidly between semi-stupefaction and wild excitement. She took what was offered, spilling half of it on the front of her dress.

"You're flush of coin, Carrie," said Polly Hemp, following the sovereign with wistful eyes as it dropped in her ally's pocket. "Where did you pick it all up?"

"Never you mind, Polly," she replied. "You want to know too much. That always was your fault. You don't sup -- suppose but what I've plenty of ways of getting money when I want it?"

"Pity you can't get enough to pay off your debts," retorted Polly, winking at Mrs. Pole to indicate that she was playing a part. "If I had a husband I'd see he did something to support me. What do you think, Mrs. Pole; eh?"

"Husband?" repeated Carrie, staring strangely into the speaker's face. "Who's talking about husbands. It 'ud be a good thing if you'd learn to mind your own business, Polly Hemp; so I tell you."

"I mind my own business right enough," returned Polly. "All I said was, as if I had a husband I'd see he did somethink for me, and didn't leave me to get my own living as best I could. There's no harm in that, I hope?"

"Yes, there is harm!" cried Carrie, the drink she had taken seemed to be rendering her momently more excited instead of stupefying her. "I know well enough what you mean, Polly, and I say again, I'll thank you to mind your own business. What's it got to do with you whether I've a husband or not? We all know how sharp you look after you money, and we know you're not partic'lar how you get either. Who writes letters and puts other people's names to em, eh, Polly Hemp? Who does that?"

The last words she screamed into Polly's face, her eyes glaring with anger which was almost madness. Her words confirmed Polly Hemp in her suspicion that Carrie had re-instituted relations with her husband, and she became all the more eager to play her part out to the end.

"I don't know what you mean by that," she retorted, "but I know as I wouldn't have a husband who didn't own me."

"No more wouldn't I," put in Mrs. Pole.

"And no more I have," cried Carrie, growing every moment more passionate and excited. "If you know anything about my husband, Polly Hemp, or you either, Mrs. Pole, you don't neither of you know nothing bad of him; I'll take my oath to that!"

"I s'pose you'll pretend as he gave you this money to-day?" continued Polly.

"No I don't," cried Carrie, "and there you have it. I got this money as best I could, and you know very well how, Polly, without me telling you. So I didn't get it from my husband, if you want to know!"

"Very good reason why," cried Polly, with a laugh. "He wouldn't have given you any if you'd gone and asked him. Ha, ha!"

"Wouldn't he, Polly," retorted the maddened girl. "Then you re a confounded liar, that's what you are, and I tell you to your face! If I wanted money and told my husband as I wanted it, I could get it any minute; so now you both know."

Both the women joined in a chorus of jeering laughter.

"Oh, ain't she talking large!" sneered Polly. "If I'd such a good husband as all that, Carrie, I'd go and live with him, that I would. Poor man! How he must miss you! What a 'fectionate husband he must be, to be sure."

"Ho, ho, Carrie," put in Mrs. Pole. "I'm sorry for all the money as you get from your 'usband. I'll bet you a bob I could put it all in my eye, and see none the worser fur it. Ho, ho!"

"You say as he won't give me any?" cried Carrie, suddenly starting to her feet, and staggering forward, though in a moment she seemed to regain her balance and to be as firm on her feet as ever. "You say as he won't give me any? Come along with me, then, both of you, and see whether he don't, when I ask him. Ah! you daren't come. You know it's all true as I've said, and that you're a pair of liars; you know it!"

"What's the good of our a comin'?" asked Polly, tauntingly. "We ain't going to be made April fools of. It's a month too early for that yet, Carrie."

"Come and see; come and see!" screamed the girl. "If I don't get money from my husband to-night for the asking for it, may God strike me dead before the house! Are you afraid to come? Ah! Are you afraid?"

"Yes, yes; we'll come, hard enough," said Mrs. Pole, who kept exchanging signs and words with Polly. "Put your hat on, Polly; we'll go."

"I'm ready!" cried Polly. "But your husband mustn't see us, you know, Carrie; or maybe he won't like it. We'll wait at the nearest corner, you see, and you'll bring us the bundle o' sovrings as he gives you. Maybe you'll want help to carry 'em 'ome."

"Ha, ha!" laughed Mrs. Pole, drinking off the remnants out of all three> glasses with laudable impartiality. "Maybe she will. We'll 'elp her, Polly, eh? Don't fear, we'll 'elp!"

* * * * * * * * * *

About eight o'clock the same evening Lucy Venning and her father were sitting together in their little parlour, enjoying that silence, only very occasionally broken by a word, which was Mr. Venning's delight. He relished his daughter's society on Sunday evenings more than ever now that she was not always with him. They had sat for nearly half-an-hour in perfect quietness, Lucy reading a favourite old devotional book, and her father sunk in congenial meditation, when the latter looked up and said --

"It's a long time since Miss Norman called here, isn't it, Lucy?"

"Yes, more than a month, father," replied Lucy, looking up from her book, but turning her eyes to the fire instead of to her father's face.

Whenever the ingenuous girl was conscious of a secret withheld from her father she felt uncomfortable if their eyes met, and the mention of Miss Norman's name was now equivalent to reminding her of a secret.

Mr. Venning again became silent, but Lucy seemed disposed to continue the conversation.

"But she constantly asks after you, father. She said only a few days ago that she could never forget the first Sunday evening she spent with us here; that it would always form one of her happiest recollections."

Mr. Venning laughed quietly, and sank back into his brown study. But shortly he again looked up, as if something had suddenly occurred to his mind.

"Bye-the-by, Mr. Golding told me a very strange piece of news last night. I wonder I didn't let you know of it, Lucy; but I seem somehow to have had other things to think of all day. Could you believe it, Mr. Golding has just become heir to five thousand pounds?"

Lucy raised her face with the best expression of surprise it was possible for her to assume.

"Never!" she exclaimed.

"Why, yes, it is very extraordinary, isn't it? And can you think what he intends doing? He has given up his place in the printing-office, and is going to study to become an artist."

"And -- and will he continue to live with us?" asked Lucy, her heart reproaching her for the deceit she was practising.

"Yes, he says so. His money is invested so as to bring him just about enough to live comfortably upon. Very strange, isn't it? Some very distant relative, he tells me, has left him the money. Very strange."

The next moment Mr. Venning was off again into the land of reveries, perhaps meditating on Arthur's unexpected rise to wealth, but more likely wandering in fancy near the picturesque old castle of Conisboro' and the woody banks of the Don. Whatever his meditations were, they were suddenly disturbed by a sharp, loud knock at the house-door, which was repeated before Lucy had time to rise.

"Whoever can it be?" exclaimed the latter. "It quite startled me."

"Take the little lamp in your hand, dear," said her father.

She took it, and went to open the door. For a minute she seemed to be exchanging words with some one; then all at once came running back into the parlour, with a pale and frightened face.

"Oh, father!" she exclaimed. "Please, please come. There is a drunken woman asking to see Mr. Golding! She is so violent ----"

Before she had ceased to speak a staggering footstep was heard in the passage, the parlour door was thrown forcibly back, and Carrie reeled into the room.

"Arthur Golding!" she cried, glaring round the room out of blood-shot eyes in a manner more like a maniac than one merely drunk. "I want Arthur Golding. I -- I don't believe he's out. Why won't he see me?"

"What do you want with Mr. Golding?" asked Mr. Venning, stepping towards her.

"I want to see him, I tell you. Can't you understand? Who are you? I don't want you. I want Arthur Golding. I want my husband."

"Your husband?" repeated Mr. Venning, whilst Lucy stood by trembling like a leaf, "you don't know what you're talking about. Leave this house at once, or I shall call a policeman!"

"Leave the house!" she echoed. "Not till I've seen my husband, I tell you! I don't know why he hides from me just when I want him. Tell him his wife wants to see him, I say!"

"Mr. Golding is not at home," said Mr. Venning, exchanging a look of amazement with Lucy. "Come, you must go at once."

He took her gently by the arm and pushed her towards the door.

As soon as she felt his hand, she began to cry "Arthur! Arthur!" with loud shrieks which must have rung through the streets, at the same time struggling violently.

"Run to the door, Lucy," cried Mr. Venning, "and see if there is a policeman near, there's a good child. Don't be frightened, dear."

Lucy ran accordingly. Standing outside near the door she found two women, one of whom approached her as soon as she appeared.

"Is that her as is kicking up that shindy?" asked the woman. "Is it the one as knocked at the door?"

"Yes," replied Lucy, panting for breath. "We can't get her away. Are you with her? Is there a policeman near?"

"Never mind a p'liceman," replied the woman. "Isn't her husband in -- Mr. Golding, I mean?"

"No, he is not in. Oh, please come and take her away if you can."

The woman, who was Polly Hemp, ran promptly into the house, where the cries and sounds of struggling still continued, and in a moment released Mr. Venning from his difficulty. She dragged Carrie by main force to the door and out into the street. Lucy followed, and closed the door quickly behind them. Then she returned into the parlour, where her father was standing, a picture of troubled astonishment.

"What ever can it all mean, Lucy?" he asked. "Did -- did you ever hear that Mr. Golding was married?"

"No, no, never!" replied the girl, and, as she spoke, sank back upon a chair and burst into tears.





CHAPTER XII

LOVE OR HONOUR?

Mr. Venning, though himself much troubled by this most unwonted disturbance of his Sunday evening's quietude, did his utmost to restore Lucy's calmness. Knowing her gentle and timid nature, he was scarcely surprised at the distress she manifested. After the first outbreak, she quickly subsided into suppressed sobbing, but it was some time before this could be completely checked. In truth, as the reader knows, it was far more from acute grief that she was suffering than from the mere results of the momentary alarm; and this grief was all the more poignant since it was felt on behalf of a person very dear to her, and not on her own account. Lucy was one of those tender, loving natures which seem to have no independent existence, but always live in the life of others -- a being whose mission it is to lighten the suffering of those about her by the sweet exertions of sympathy, or to increase the total of happiness by reflecting the joys of those she loves.

So pale and low-spirited did she appear during the rest of the evening, that Mr. Venning strongly urged her to remain at home that night, and to return to Highbury in the morning. He even offered to walk to Holly Cottage himself, in order to explain to Miss Norman the cause of her absence. But Lucy resisted these propositions with an eagerness which showed her father that it would but make her unhappy to insist upon her staying. He proposed that they should sing together as they were accustomed to do on Sunday evening; but Lucy, the tears rising afresh to her eyes, begged that he would allow her to refuse; she did not feel well enough to sing. So they sat together in scarcely-broken silence, both occupied with strange and unpleasant thoughts, till the clock struck ten. Then Lucy rose as usual, and was on the point of going upstairs to dress for her walk, when the outer door opened, and a step which they knew was Golding's followed in the passage. Both dreaded lest Arthur should knock at the parlour door, as he not unfrequently did; but happily he passed without doing so, and went directly up to his room. As soon as they had heard his door close, Lucy ran softly up, and in a few minutes was ready to start.

Her father insisted upon accompanying her, and would not be refused. So they walked side by side, scarcely exchanging a word, as far as the gate of Holly Cottage. Here Mr. Venning kissed his child quietly, and, after exacting from her a promise that she would let him know if she were not better in the morning, turned back homewards.

Lucy passed through the gate into the holly-circled garden, but did not ascend the steps to the door. There was but one light in the front of the house, that from Mrs. Cumberbatch's bedroom. The two front rooms were dark. Helen, most probably, was in her study, the window of which looked out upon the back. Under these circumstances the little lawn was perfectly dark, for it was a moonless night, and no glimmer from the road could pierce the hedges of holly. For nearly half-an-hour Lucy paced up and down here, engaged in an internal struggle which caused her to cry and sob, and sometimes to wring her hands in the extremity of distress. Should she tell Helen what had happened to-night? That was the question which tortured her, driving her mind, so unused to grave doubts and apprehensions, almost to the verge of distraction. If she told Helen what she had heard, she would be the means of causing her dear friend such suffering that a bitter foe could not wish to inflict deeper. On the other hand, if she did not tell her, she knew too well that she would fail in her duty towards Helen, to say nothing of destroying from that day forward all trace of her own peace of mind. Yes, yes, clearly it was her duty to tell all she knew. It might be a falsehood the drunken woman had told; if so, and if Helen proved it to be so, no harm would have been done, but great good in the quieting of her own conscience and the confirmation of Helen's confidence in her lover. But if it were true -- Lucy covered her face with her hands as if to shut out some terrible sight, when she had thought for a moment upon the consequences of its being true. And so she had her period of bitter inward strife out in the cold dark garden -- strife such as all of us have to go through one day or another; and, because she possessed a good, true and affectionate heart, the result of it was that she conquered, and chose the right path. Doing her best to dry her eyes and calm her nerves, she ascended the steps and entered the house, resolved to tell Helen before she slept.

The door of Helen's study was ajar, and the gleam of light issuing from within alone illuminated the hall. As soon as Lucy had entered and closed the front door behind her, she heard Helen's voice calling to her in a clear, pleasant tone from out of the study.

"Is that you, Lucy?"

"Yes, Miss Norman."

"Don't trouble to go upstairs, dear," she continued. "Come here; I have something to show you."

Lucy's heart beat so fiercely as to cause her pain. She walked slowly along the hall, feeling as if she were about to commit a crime. She knew only too well that she bore a message which would turn the glad tones of her dear friend's voice into those of suffering and woe. She entered the study. Helen was sitting near the fire, with a large book open upon her knees. She did not turn round as Lucy approached her, but, without looking round, held out her hand, and, when Lucy clasped it, drew the latter's arm over her shoulder.

"Look at this, Lucy," she said. "I happened, quite by chance, to open this old book about half-an-hour ago. It used to stand in my father's library at Bloomford, and, when I was quite a child, was rather a favourite of mine; you see, there are such a lot of pictures in it. I think it cannot have been opened for more than ten or twelve years. Well, I was turning over the pages quietly, recalling all manner of strange old recollections, when all at once I came upon this piece of paper, in between two pages. Look! Can you guess what it is?"

Lucy looked and saw an old yellowish scrap of writing paper, on which were written, between ruled pencil lines, several words in a large, tremulous child's hand. Looking closer, she saw that they were names. First came "Arthur Golding," then "Helen Norman." Lucy did her best to make some suitable remark or inquiry, but she could not speak. Her mind was distracted with thoughts as to how she should break her painful news.

"Isn't it strange?" pursued Helen, in a voice of almost childish delight. "It is Arthur's own writing, when he was being taught at Bloomford by Mr. Whiffle -- you remember, I told you of Mr. Whiffle, our curate. And it has lain there all these years unnoticed, as it would seem merely for the purpose of giving me delight, now that I am becoming aged. No doubt it was Arthur himself who put it there. You know he was always fond of looking at pictures, and he must have been looking at these one day and left the paper there by chance. And both our names! Oh, how I shall prize that piece of paper!"

Lucy maintained absolute silence. Her face had become pale as death. Her hand was chilled in Helen's warm grasp. Her breath came in pants. She felt as though about to faint. Suddenly Helen turned her head round and looked into her face.

"Whatever is the matter, Lucy?" she asked. "Are you not well, dear? What is it?"

Instead of replying, Lucy covered her face with her hands, and once more burst into bitter tears. For a moment Helen stood in speechless astonishment, then she drew the suffering girl close to her, passing one arm round her, and with the other fondling her as she would have fondled a distressed child.

"What does it all mean, dear?" she asked, in a caressing voice. "Won't you tell me? Won't you let me share your trouble? Your grief shocks me, Lucy. What can have occasioned it?"

"It is not on my own account, Miss Norman," sobbed the poor girl; "not on my own account, but yours."

"On mine, Lucy?" asked Helen, in astonishment. "You are crying for me? And when I never was so happy in my life? What strange fancy has taken possession of you?"

"Oh, something has happened to-night which I must tell you of, though it will almost kill me to do so! Say you will forgive me, Miss Norman, for the pain I shall cause you? Oh, how I wish some one else could have told you! I cannot bear to make you suffer!"

Consternation had taken the place of mere surprise on Helen's countenance. With a lover's instinct her heart foreboded some evil connected with Arthur. She grew almost as pale as Lucy, and pressed her hand against her heart.

"Lucy," she said, doing her utmost to speak composedly, "whatever it is, you must tell me at once. Now, indeed, you are causing me unnecessary pain, though you do not mean to do so. At once, at once! What have you to tell me?"

Forcing back her tears, Lucy clasped Helen's hands tightly in her own, and forthwith told her, in few and simple words, all that had happened. She neither softened nor exaggerated a single feature of the event, nor did she draw any conclusion from it. She could not attempt consolation, since it was impossible for her to know what faith was to be reposed in the strange woman's assertions. Much as she yearned to lighten the effect of her story, she could do nothing but wait and see how Helen would receive it.

The latter listened with forced calm to the end of the relation, but Lucy felt the hands she held clasp convulsively and become moist. A single twinge of acutest agony found expression upon Helen's features, then they became pale as death, but otherwise undisturbed. The story done, she turned from the reciter, and walked once or twice up and down the room. When she faced Lucy again she was smiling, a strange, weird smile, more trouble to Lucy than a burst of agonised tears.

"The woman lied!" she exclaimed, with a violence of tone and expression most strange to her lips. "Of course she lied! Surely you don't believe her, Lucy!"

The other kept silence, not knowing how to reply.

"You foolish child!" pursued Helen, with a forced, unnatural laugh. "Who can tell what miserable notion the wretched creature has for saying such a thing? She was drunk, you say -- so drunk she could scarcely stand?"

"Oh, yes, I am sure she was," replied Lucy. "Yet she did not speak much like -- like that."

"What was her face like?"

"I can't remember; I scarcely dared to look at her. I can only remember that her eyes glared fearfully."

Again Helen paced the room, smiling in this same strange way.

"We mustn't think any more of this, Lucy," she said at length. "I feel sure it can be explained. Arthur will explain it to me. No, no; we mustn't think of it. Poor girl! you were frightened almost to death by the woman's violence, dear. You may even have misunderstood what she said. Come, you are tired out, and your eyes are quite red with crying. Give me a kiss, Lucy, and get off to bed. Upon my word, it is half-past eleven. Off with you!"

Lucy drew near to kiss her, but having done so, instead of at once departing, she clasped Helen to her arms, and sobbed against her bosom. The sight of the poor child's suffering was too much for Helen, and for some minutes they mingled their tears, only the sound of sobs breaking the silence. Then Helen gently freed herself from her friend's embrace, and, kissing her on the forehead, whispered a good-night.

Lucy soon slept, worn out by her unwonted emotions, but for Helen there was no rest that night. Though the nobility of her nature bade her keep up a good heart and refuse to believe anything that could taint the honour of him at whose feet she had laid the priceless treasure of her love; nay, though forcibly withheld from believing by a vague and terrible fear which, like a shapeless shadow from the realms of darkness, stood menacing her with ghastly vengeance if she dared to approach, in this long night of anguish there were moments when her soul knew for the first time all the bitterness of despair. When midnight was long past, and the fierce beating of a hail-storm against the window was the only sound which could be heard, in one such moment she flung herself upon her knees by the bedside and, with hands clasped above her bead, gave vent to the anguish of her soul in a wild prayer. She had not prayed since those old days of religious fervour when she had almost become a Roman Catholic, and this act was now no off-spring of her reason, merely the result of passionate yearnings for comfort in suffering so terrible that human aid seemed vain. Thus she passed one of those nights which work upon the human body and mind with the effect of years.

She made her appearance at breakfast outwardly calm; only Lucy could distinguish upon her features traces of the suffering she had endured. It was Mrs. Cumberbatch's habit to maintain throughout this early meal an almost absolute silence, smiling to herself unceasingly the while. In all probability she was discussing in her own mind the probable events of the day, dwelling now and then, by way of diversion, upon some incident of yesterday. Mrs. Cumberbatch had still the delight of reigning as supreme mistress in the house, for, well knowing her powers in that direction, Helen had given into her hands the whole direction of household affairs. This silent habit of hers at breakfast was always grateful to Helen, this morning especially so. The poor girl's mind was in no humour for trivial conversation.

Before any one else in the house had risen, Helen had been out and posted a letter, the contents of which were urgent. During the morning she passed an hour or two in reading as usual with Lucy, but did not speak a word of last night's matter. Her companion was surprised at this calmness; it distressed her because it seemed so unnatural. About twelve o'clock, when they had partaken together of lunch, Helen entrusted Lucy with several little commissions, some of which would take her to a considerable distance. As soon as she was once more alone, she repaired to the front sitting-room and sat down by the fire. She had no book in her hands, no occupation of any kind; only she kept glancing impatiently at the clock upon the mantel-piece, as if in expectation of some arrival.

At one o'clock exactly, she heard the door bell ring. At once she became rigid upon her seat, and her features, in their endeavour to be composed, assumed a sternness of expression very little in accordance with the emotions struggling within her heart. Then there was a knock at the door, and the servant made an announcement. She endeavoured to rise upon her feet, but her strength seemed utterly to have failed her. A few quick steps across the carpet, and Arthur Golding was bending over her.

Then she arose, and gave him her hand, but with so little of her usual fervour that Arthur was amazed, and fell back a step or two. He did not speak, for her face forewarned him of some evil, and alarmed him into silence. He stood still, interrogating her with his countenance.

"You were surprised at my urgent note?" asked Helen, breaking the silence with a voice which was low, uncertain, and somewhat sad. "When a difficulty occurs to me, Arthur, it is my habit to go at once to the root of it, as it were, to dig it up out of my path, if my strength suffice to the task. I am face to face with such a difficulty at present, but I cannot remove it without your help. And so I have sent for you."

A load seemed lifted from Arthur's breast. Surely she could not speak thus calmly of anything serious affecting the relations between them. Ever since he had received her brief note summoning him immediately, he had been haunted by all manner of horrible fears and suspicions. He felt now that he had been mistaken.

"Whatever the task be," he replied, smiling, "you know you can depend upon my best efforts."

"Yes, Arthur," she continued, "I have absolute confidence in you; but at present I have no difficult achievements to impose upon you. I have sent for you to ask a question, and because I absolutely trust you. I shall require nothing beyond a mere negative or affirmative for my answer."

His face paled, sure token that the pressure had resumed its place within his heart. Her eyes were fixed unwaveringly upon his, and he forced himself to return the gaze with equal steadiness.

"You know," she pursued, "that it is Lucy Venning's custom to spend Sunday evening with her father. When she returned to me last night, she was in sad distress, the result of something that had happened at home. What this was she told me, thinking, and rightly thinking, it her duty to do so. It seems that she and her father were sitting quietly together, when a loud knock came at the door, and Lucy went to answer it, and was alarmed by finding it to be a drunken woman, who asked to see Mr. Golding. Lucy replied that you were not at home, but the woman would not be satisfied, disbelieving the reply. She said that her name was Carrie, and that you would see her if you knew she was there. Then she forced her way into the house, she behaved violently, crying that she would see Arthur, that she was -- his wife and insisted upon seeing him. With difficulty she was removed from the house, and did not return. Well, this is the whole story, as Lucy told it to me; and I ask you, Arthur, to tell me whether you can explain this assertion which the woman made, that she was your wife."

Arthur's eyes, whilst she spoke, had wandered from her face to the pictures upon the walls, and, resting on one in particular, had endeavoured, for the space of a minute, to discern some object in it which the light rendered obscure. Failing in this, he had looked towards the window, out upon the holly-bushes, which were glistening in the sunshine which had followed upon a sharp shower of rain. Thence his eyes returned for a moment to Helen's face, and, as he looked at her, she trembled slightly, and resumed the seat from which she had risen at his entrance. Then his face fell, and for more than a minute, he stood in silence, his brows bent, gazing down at the floor. Helen no longer looked at him. She, too, was now looking through the window at the holly-bushes, and thinking how beautiful they were in the sunshine. Words at length broke the silence, uttered in a low, but firm, voice.

"I can explain it perfectly. The woman spoke the truth. She is my wife."

Had his life depended upon it he could not have lied to her. Indeed, at this moment, the renunciation of her love, of all the endless joy which that love guaranteed to him in the future, was far more bitter to him than mere loss of life could have been; but still the truth was forced from him by her presence, by the sound of her voice which still seemed in his ears, by the expression of her marble-pale face, illuminated by a beam of sunshine, and, as it was turned upwards, resembling that of a grief-shaken Niobe. When he had ceased speaking, she rose, and for a moment seemed to hesitate. Then she addressed him, and her voice had no trace of feebleness.

"In many respects," she said, "I think I am not like ordinary women. My life has been one of quiet study, and practical work which few hear of, and perhaps I have learned to weigh my own actions and those of others more in the scale of reason, and less in that of mere emotion, than those of my sex usually do. You need not fear passionate reproaches from me, Arthur. They would be unavailing, and only cause both of us needless suffering. I think I can still be just to you, though you have failed in the full measure of confidence towards me. I have experienced enough of life to divine what misery lies hidden beneath this confession of yours, and my own heart tells me well enough the strength of the temptation to which you have yielded. Let us be glad that the discovery has come so soon; how infinitely better than that we should have been allowed to become indispensable to each other, and then be forced to undergo the death-agony of parting. Good-bye."

She held her hand to him; he took it, held it a moment, and dropped it. His tongue had not the power to utter a word, only his eyes followed her, fixed in an unintelligent stare, as she walked towards the door. She turned the handle, and was on the point of passing out, when suddenly she staggered, reeled, and fell heavily to the ground.

In a moment Arthur had encircled her in his arms, and, as easily as though she were a child, had lifted her on to the couch. He would not call help, the joy of having her alone with him, wholly dependent upon his assistance, was too great to be relinquished, especially when his brain kept repeating to itself with fierce persistency the words, "For the last time. For the last time." There was water in a decanter upon the side-board, and with this he sprinkled her forehead. One long, passionate kiss he had pressed upon her lips, when consciousness returned, and her eyes opened.

She seemed at once to realise all that had happened, and lay quite still, her eyes straying round the walls, and at length becoming fixed upon the ceiling. As Arthur stood bending over her, anguish rendering him mute, he saw great tears start from beneath her eyelids, fill her eye, and fall slowly on to her cheeks. The sight of her tears seemed to loosen his tongue. Clasping her hand he fell upon his knees beside her and broke into passionate exclamations --

"Helen! -- My own love! -- Dear, dear Helen! -- Let me hear you speak one word -- one word of forgiveness, one last word of affection. I cannot, I will not leave you without one word! Oh, if you knew all that I have suffered; if you knew my motives; if you knew my heart! -- Before you, Helen, I am a monster of imperfection; who is not? But I cannot bear that you should think ill of me, that you should confound my act with the coarse brutalities of vulgar natures. No, no, for my insincerity to yourself I have no excuse to offer; no judgment upon it can be too severe. But if I might explain how it arose, if I could lay before you the dark places through which the current of my life has flowed, Oh, you would not send me away unforgiven, you would not think me unworthy of a last kind look, of one last affectionate word, to assure me that you will sometimes think of me. Speak to me, dearest! -- One word!"

With a sigh she raised herself to a sitting position, and looked at him with wide, sad eyes.

"I thought you would understand from what I said," she replied, "that I had forgiven you; or rather, that I did not presume to judge you, and so could scarcely presume to offer forgiveness. I am no bigoted upholder of conventional forms, Arthur; no worshipper of the gods of society. But still how can I act otherwise than I do? You confess to me that you are married, that you have undertaken to devote yourself to one woman for the rest of your life; and how is it possible that you can offer me such devotion? Your conduct towards me may have been dictated by the purest and highest feelings, but necessarily it was mistaken conduct. You should have reflected how easily it might bring both of us into the extremity of wretchedness. It was terribly unwise."

"I was not responsible for my actions, Helen," he returned. "Love for you had maddened me, and I could not behave otherwise than I did. But perhaps I was not so culpable as I may appear, in leading you to believe that I was free. You must not think me cowardly to justify myself at the expense of another. Let me lay before you the plain truth; let me show you how my error was brought on. You must hear me, Helen; justice requires it. Noble, high-minded, good as you are beyond any living creature, you yet cannot help feeling some bitterness against me in your heart."

"You attribute high qualities to me," she said, smiling faintly; "but I feel only too well that I am a weak woman, very, very far from a heroic one. I have suffered terribly since I heard of this from Lucy last night; and I feel that my nature will not bear much more. Why should you enter upon a narration which can only be excessively painful to both of us?"

"I will spare you all details," he urged. "You shall hear nothing but what is necessary to understand the circumstances. But so much I must beg you to hear! You will not refuse, Helen? It is perhaps my last prayer."

She sighed, but bent her head in assent. Then Arthur forthwith related to her, in few and simple words, the circumstances which had led to his first connection with Carrie, showed how the influences which at that time ruled his life had irresistibly bidden him exert himself on the sufferer's behalf, and how excess of compassion had by degrees developed into a feeling which he had mistaken for love. Very briefly he described his married life, the efforts he had made to raise Carrie from her degraded state, the terrible struggles he had carried on with her besetting vice. Then he passed quickly to her sudden disappearance, and to the life of intolerable misery which had succeeded for him.

"During all this time," he continued, "I never saw my wife. I had no idea where to seek for her, even had I desired to renew the old life; and can you blame me, Helen, when I say I could not desire to do so? Only on returning home from here a week ago did I for the first time see her again. She was in a state of wretched poverty and in great mental suffering; she protested her desire to return to a better life, and begged me to give her a little help. I gave her all the money I had. Less than that I could not do; and, with your confession of love still ringing within my soul -- how could I do more? Nay, I dare to say it -- it would not have been right to do more! What had I to do with her, any more than with any beggar whose story might touch me and make me pity her? It would have been blasphemy against true love to have spoken to her one word of affection; it would have been unjust to you, Helen; for to you my heart belongs, not to her. -- My wife? My wife? -- What does it mean, this word -- wife? Does it signify a relationship which can be made or sundered by laws and idle ceremonies? Never! She was never my wife, for I never truly loved her. What right has she to come and put forward such a claim, when even the slight validity which her dependence upon me might have given it had been long ago annulled by her own deliberate act. -- My wife? -- This degraded, horrible, brutalised creature to call herself my wife! If the word means anything at all, it is you, Helen, to whom it should apply. Yes, you are indeed my wife, have been my wife from the moment when our lips first met, when we breathed to each other the first utterance of love, the first vow of constancy. The law may recognise that other one as wife; but I, never -- never!"

As he spoke he had gradually become more and more passionate, overcome by the violence of his love, which seemed to increase in strength at the moment of its bidding farewell to hope. As he ceased, he flung himself on his knees by Helen's side, grasping her hand, and pressed it wildly to his lips. Almost immediately it was withdrawn with an effort which his strength could indeed have rendered useless, but which respect would not allow him to resist.

"I cannot have you speak so wildly, Arthur," she replied, becoming calmer in proportion as he lost self-control. "I pity you profoundly, but my conscience will not permit me to grant the truth of what you say. Such theories would result in the destruction of society, and we, who pretend to have the welfare of society in a more than ordinary degree at heart, should be the last to allow passion to blind our reason in a matter such as this. But your confession has relieved me; the fact that your wife had left you voluntarily, and had remained so long out of your sight, renders your conduct as concerns myself less morally culpable. Your graver faults began when she appeared before you and begged your assistance. Then you should have recognised the course which duty clearly pointed out to you. Her behaviour then showed that you might perhaps still have exerted some influence upon her, and it was a grave error to neglect the opportunity. I was no good angel to you when my image induced you to shut your ears to the voice of conscience and let your wife once more go her way.

"But what do you bid me do?" he exclaimed, in a choking voice. "Must I renounce you? After enjoying the greatest, the only bliss of existence for a few poor days, must I relinquish it for ever? Better bid me end my life at once, for what use will there be in living?"

"You do not mean -- you do not know what you say," returned Helen, looking down at him with infinite compassion as he still knelt by her side. "You must leave me, Arthur, and think over all this in solitude, when your mind has become calm. Then you will be compelled to acknowledge the justice of what I have said; you will see that we must forget each other."

"Then you do not love me," he cried, starting to his feet. "You have never loved me, Helen! Why did you feign passion and lead me to think myself happy in your priceless affection? What cruel jest was it? No, no, you have never loved me, or you could not speak so calmly of our forgetting each other!"

"Arthur, you are cruelly unjust!" she replied, the tears starting to her eyes. "You are cruelly unjust, and you will see it when you become calmer."

"Then you do love me?" he asked, again approaching. "You do love me, Helen? Ah! But it cannot be such love as mine. Your love is but little more than mere friendship, a cool, calculating feeling, looking to means and results, and capable of denying its object when the possession of it might prove dangerous to self-interest. My love is not of that nature. It reigns supreme in me, subduing all considerations, rendering all objections futile. To deny its omnipotence would be blasphemy. It is a sacred passion, and all its promptings must be lawful!"

"But how am I to understand you?" exclaimed Helen, with sudden animation. "If you deny my love with such violence, it can only be that you wish me to prove it. How would you have me do so? Do you wish me to be your mistress? Nay, don't start at the word and look terrified; my modesty is not of such trivial nature that it shames to be put face to face with truths. What else can you mean by this talk of the supremacy of love, of the lawfulness of all its promptings? You know that marriage between us is impossible as long as she who is already your wife can come forward at any moment and prove her claims upon you. Am I not a human being? Have I not passions like your own, the thwarting of which causes me pangs as keen as those you suffer from? What, then, am I to understand?"

He stood absorbed before her, unable to reply a word.

"I repeat, Arthur," she resumed, more calmly, "you do me cruel wrong when you deny that I do love, or have ever loved you. Your own passion cannot be greater than mine, but my sight is the clearer. I know perfectly well you would never make a degrading proposition to me, that you would suffer your whole life through rather than inflict on me a moment's pain. I know that, because it is how I also feel towards you. Shall I not suffer in parting from you? Will it not be a lifelong regret that I gave my soul to you for so short a time, only to lose you for ever? And in acting as I do, I spare you pain; if you suffer for the moment you will quickly see how preferable this was to unending remorse. For such could not but be your fate if you neglected the commands of your conscience. Understand me, I am not speaking of your duty towards myself, but towards her who is your wife. Degraded and miserable as she is, she has still claims upon you; nay, all the greater claims in proportion as she is degraded and miserable. How can you, who have been so strongly impressed with the sufferings inflicted by society upon the poor and outcast, permit yourself to altogether forget this wretched woman, careless of what becomes of her? How can you think that I, who make it the work of my life to relieve all the misery I can, could be happy in the perpetual consciousness that I was robbing her of the care you might otherwise extend to her? Even if you would, Arthur, I know that you cannot be altogether indifferent to her fate. Those whose fates cross our own with any great influence, either for good or for evil, we can never altogether forget. Nor is it right we should. What other bonds are there so effective in the progress of the world as those knit by Fate, which we are often tempted to call chance, between those who have nothing else in common save their humanity? Upon the conduct of the individual in cases such as these, upon his greater or less degree of honour; upon his more or less clear perception of the principles of duty, depend issues which, if we look upon the world as of any consequence at all, it is impossible to over-rate. Oh, Arthur, you place me in a false position; you force me to become your counsellor and strengthener, when I am so sorely in need of such a comforter myself. Spare me, I beg you to spare me, further pain."

Whilst she spoke Arthur continued to stand with his eyes fixed upon the ground, when she ceased he turned away and walked to the window. For some minutes he stood here, engaged in a fierce conflict with himself. At length he turned, and again advanced towards her, his face pale, but less disturbed.

"Helen," he said, "you are indeed my good angel. Now for the second time you decide an all-important point in my life If I am by nature passionate and too little disposed to reflect, I am also capable of recognising the good and the true when they are set before me. You have spoken no word but what is the essence of truth and honour, and I promise you solemnly to act upon what you have said. It only remains for you to forget me as quickly as possible."

"When I used that word, Arthur," replied Helen, "I scarcely knew what I said. I can never forget you; your memory will be a part of my nature, and will last till I die. But I shall endeavour to think of you as a dear friend, as the brother you might perhaps have been to me if Fate had permitted it. Try to think of me, too, as a sister."

"Do not mock me, Helen. My love is not capable of such transformations, I fear, however much I may resolve to make it so. I cannot promise to forget you; that would be beyond my power. You shall lie in my heart as the good-genius of my life; and your voice, the tone of which will never quit my ear, shall be an inward monitor to me, a conscience louder than my own. Neither can I promise you to relinquish all hope. If ever ----"

Helen held up her hands warningly. He bent his head, and was silent.

"If you grant to me such a high place as the guiding spirit in your thoughts," she said, solemnly, "let my voice be always exerted in the name of duty. Duty must rule in every act of your life, not only in the one circumstance to which you will first apply yourself. If you neglect that highest gift of nature, that genius which should have power to raise you above so many every-day troubles, you will be grievously neglecting that duty. For some time we must not see each other, perhaps only after years ought we to permit ourselves to meet again; but in the meantime I shall not lose sight of you. I shall see your name becoming famous, I shall hear it spoken with praise, I shall see your pictures and rejoice at the thought that no one can understand them so well as myself. Promise me that it shall be so, Arthur; that you will strain every nerve to fulfil your part in the world's work, that this brief passion of ours shall have for its result only a higher degree of activity, the striving after higher ends. With me, it will be so. Let me cherish the hope that it will also be with you."

"I shall always remember this as your last wish," replied Arthur. "It shall be inviolable to me."

She stepped towards him, and gave him her hand, smiling with a content such as only noble natures are capable of experiencing. To Arthur's eyes, dimmed as they were with moisture, her countenance appeared radiant, a halo seemed to play around her head and glorify her. It was in vain he tried to say farewell. Neither did Helen pronounce the word, but, murmuring, "For your sister, Arthur," she offered him her lips. Then he relinquished her hand, and first the room-door, then the house-door, closed behind him. Before he had stepped off the holly-circled lawn out into the road, Helen had sunk upon the couch, once more in unconsciousness.





CHAPTER XIII

DOMESTIC

On the same morning which saw the last sorrowful interview between Helen Norman and Arthur Golding, a conversation, not very striking in itself, considering the interlocutors, but of some importance when viewed in the light of succeeding events, was being held in Mrs. Waghorn's boudoir between that lady and her husband.

Maud had risen, in accordance with her usual habits, at the reasonable hour of eleven, and towards noon was lying on an extremely comfortable couch, close to a cheerful fire, with a tempting breakfast arranged upon a low table within easy reach of her hand. Now and then she ate a mouthful of toast or sipped her coffee, then she would seem to forget everything in a fit of deep reverie; another moment she would take up the book which lay open upon the chair beside her and read a page or so with apparent interest. The book was "Madame Bovary," and to all appearances, Maud was reading it for the first time; at all events she was only about the middle of it. Time was of little consequence to Mrs. Waghorn, and the announcement of the hour of twelve by a little silver-voiced clock upon the mantel-piece did not even cause her to raise her head.

Another sound, however, making itself heard upon the stairs a few minutes after, seemed to have more effect upon her. It was a quick, heavy step, which she knew perfectly well and which appeared somewhat to surprise her. The step was unmistakably approaching her door. She had scarcely time to resume her attitude of careless ease before her door was thrown violently open, and Mr. John Waghorn made his appearance. She did not raise her head as he entered, and only a slight fluttering of the pages of her book indicated that his entrance made any impression upon her.

"What the devil does that mean?" he cried, advancing close to her and holding a piece of paper so as almost to touch her face.

"Thank you," she replied, calmly; "but I am not at all shortsighted. If you will have the kindness to let me hold it at a proper distance I may be able to answer your question."

He threw it upon her lap, and stood regarding her with a fierce, malevolent scowl. Mr. John Waghorn's personal appearance had not improved with time. Though still eminently respectable, when not seen at the domestic hearth, it was assuming something of haggardness, which the kindly disposed would impute to business cares, the more knowing and the less friendly to troubles of a somewhat different nature. At all events, the woman who could with impunity be made the subject of a regard such as the present one was scarcely to be envied.

Maud placed the piece of paper on the open pages of "Madame Bovary" and contemplated it for a moment. Then she replied, with much calmness, and without raising her eyes --

"It strongly resembles a milliner's bill. It is a somewhat strange time though for bills to be sent."

"It was sent because I wrote for it," replied Mr. Waghorn. "But what the devil does it mean, I ask you? 110 odd, since Christmas. How do you explain it?"

"By the simple fact that it is customary for ladies to wear dresses," she replied, sarcastically, "and that I do not pretend to sufficient moral courage to make an appearance in public without one."

"Damn your fine airs!" cried the gentleman, seizing the bill rudely from her hands. "Answer plainly. Is this a correct account, or isn't it?"

"I see no reason to doubt its correctness!" replied Maud. "I really cannot be expected to remember every article which is sent to me, together with its price."

"Very well!" he exclaimed, folding up the bill and thrusting it into his waist-coat pocket. "Then I shan't pay it, that's all!"

"Indeed?" she asked.

"No, I shan't!" he repeated. "They may take an action, if they like; most likely they will. But they can't get money out of empty pockets, that's one satisfaction. What's more, I shall send a notice to all your tradespeople that they're not to supply you in future, and, if that's not enough, I'm hanged if I don't advertise you in the papers. See if I don't!"

"You are of course at liberty to behave with just as much rudeness and brutality as accords with your nature," remarked Maud, taking up her book as if to resume her reading.

Mr. Waghorn stood with his hands thrust into his trouser-pockets, biting his lower lip. Perhaps it was his position which suggested Maud's next remark.

"You made some allusion to empty pockets," she said. "Did you mean anything by it, or was it one of those pieces of gentle irony in which you are wont to find pleasure?"

Mr. Waghorn turned slightly away, but almost immediately faced round again.

"You will know sooner or later," he said, kicking over a handsome little buffet which stood before the couch, "so I may as well tell you plainly at once. If I said empty pockets, I meant it. You needn't be surprised any morning if you have to leave this house. I shall have to sell it, and the sooner the better."

"Or, in plain words," suggested Maud, laying down her book, and, for the first time, looking her husband in the face, "you are about to become a bankrupt?"

"It isn't unlikely. It's well I have your money to fall back upon, or things might go devilish hard with us."

As he ceased speaking he began to whistle to himself, and walked to the window. Maud's eyes followed him with an expression half of surprise, half of gratified hatred.

"I didn't quite understand your last remark," she said, after a moment's silence.

"I said," he replied, turning only half towards her, and still pretending to look at something down in the street, "that if I hadn't your money to fall back upon, things might go devilish hard."

"My money?"

"Yes, your money," he repeated, with irritation. "I suppose it isn't all spent, is it?"

"If you mean what was settled upon me at my marriage, I am happy to be able to inform you that neither principal nor interest has been touched. As to your having it to fall back upon, I am at a loss to understand the expression."

She rose as she spoke, and stood in front of the fire, drawing a light shawl about her shoulders. Over the mantel-piece was a large mirror, in which she regarded herself. The mirror reflected a peculiar smile.

"It isn't hard to understand plain English," exclaimed her husband, suddenly facing her. "If my money's all done I suppose we must make yours go as far as it will, mustn't we?"

"Mr. Waghorn," was the calm reply, "we had better understand each other at once. The money which is mine, I mean to keep to myself. If necessary I must live on it; but I should wish immediately to relieve your mind from any expectation of sharing it with me. Perhaps you will understand me better if I say that I would not draw a cheque for one guinea to save your life to-morrow."

She gave expression to this amiable sentiment with a quiet clearness of tone and a firmness of countenance which showed very plainly she meant what she said. For a moment Mr. Waghorn regarded her with lowering eyebrows, evidently at a loss how to reply to this declaration of opinion.

"In other words," he remarked at length, in a lower voice than ordinary, "if you find the ship sinking you'll just do your best to get clear of it."

"Precisely," replied Maud.

At this reply, extinguishing the last ray of hope which had served to sustain the impudent courage of his base nature, Waghorn suddenly gave reins to the passion which was boiling within him. His eyes flashed and his face became red with anger.

"I dare you to say so!" he cried. "By God! I dare you to say so! Who is it that has done most to ruin me, if not yourself, with bills like this? And now you think to get out of all the consequences and run away to live on your own money. But you shan't do so, don't think so. Do you know who it is you are trying to bully? Damn you, you she-devil! Who's master here, you or I?"

"It appears by your own confession," replied Maud, stepping back a little before his violence, but speaking with undiminished firmness and calmness of tone, "that you won't be master here long. If you flatter yourself that you have ever been master of me, I assure you, you are strangely mistaken. I, indeed, am to have the charge of ruining you made against me, am I? I suppose your own temperance and frugality are so eminent that you are at a loss to account for expenditure otherwise. If you ever gambled, if you ever drank, if you had ever kept mistresses, it would have been a different thing. But then your abstinence from all those vices has been so wonderful. If you had been in the habit of betting on horse-races or losing money at cards, your friends would certainly have talked of it, and I should have heard their amiable comments, which, as it is, I have never done. If you had been in the habit of drinking too much I should certainly have noticed it, I might even have seen you intoxicated at times; it is even possible you might have been so unlucky as to figure in the police-court for drunken assaults; but as I never knew you anything but strictly sober and gentlemanly in your demeanour that suggestion is of course impossible. Then, if you had had a weakness for the society of second-rate actresses and ballet-girls, one might have explained a great deal of expenditure, but such a hypothesis is of course out of the question. Otherwise I should certainly have seen ill-spelt letters to you occasionally, lying about your bedroom; I might have noticed you driving about in hansoms at night with young ladies of dubious appearance; or even such a thing might have happened to me as to go down into my own drawing-room after midnight and to find you revelling there with some half-dozen common prostitutes. But how shocking such things would have been; how happy I should esteem myself that I have a husband so absolutely faithful to his wife! Yes, certainly I must be the cause of your ruin. I can see no other explanation of it!"

She had scarcely pronounced the last word of this speech, burning throughout with the fiercest sarcasm, when passion overmastered the hearer's last remnant of self-restraint. Uttering a frenzied oath, he sprang forward, and, with his open hand, struck her a fierce blow upon the head. With a shriek, half of alarm, half of pain, she fell back upon the couch; but in a moment started up from it again. Whilst Waghorn stood, quivering with passion, and blind to her movements, she had sprung to a drawer, wrenched it open, and grasped something which glistened in her hand. There was an instant flash, a loud report, and the mirror over the fire-place shattered into a thousand pieces. Whilst the sound of the pistol-shot was still echoing loudly through the room, Waghorn once more leaped like a tiger upon the maddened woman, wrenched the pistol from her hand, threw it aside; then, grasping each of her arms, dashed her violently upon the floor. Twice he raised her by her arms, twice dashed her down again, she shrieking loudly. At the last blow she became insensible. Then he took up the pistol, and, thrusting it into his pocket, left the room in time to meet the servants who were rushing up-stairs, and give them a satisfactory explanation of the alarm.

* * * * * * * * * *

After Arthur's departure, Helen Norman passed the rest of the day in strict seclusion; not even Lucy Venning was summoned to keep her company. The fits of violent grief, almost of despair, which alternated with her hours of silent suffering, were such as no one might be witness of. She knew well that this agony would be but transitory, that the morrow would find her once more calm and resolved to struggle with her fate; but in the meantime the storm of passion must have its way, must wreak its full fury upon her frame, must make her weak in body in order that she might become strong in soul.

In the course of the afternoon she was disturbed by a knock at her door. She did not open, but asked what was wanted. A servant informed her that Mrs. Waghorn had called and wished very much to see her. Helen shuddered at the thought of an interview with Maud, in her present state of mind; she knew that it would be impossible for her to endure the stream of small talk, flavoured with cynical comments upon the speaker's self and the world in general, which Maud had of late only appeared capable of. She sent her compliments to Mrs. Waghorn, begging she might be excused on consideration of somewhat severe indisposition. Apparently this message sufficed, for the servant did not return.

During the night she woke up in a fit of coughing, such as had once before broken a sleep of anguish, and with the same results. There was blood in her mouth. Again the hours of nameless terror had to be endured, again she seemed to see ghostly figures sitting beside her bed. Again she felt acutely her painful loneliness, more now, after the brief taste of such delightful companionship than ever before. Lucy was sleeping in the next room, but what was to be gained by waking her? Lucy was a dear, affectionate child, a sweet associate of calm hours, but for midnight scenes such as this all unfitted.

Peace came with the following day, partly as a consequence of almost complete physical prostration. Helen was so entirely worn out that her mind gladly took refuge in any trifle to escape the painful and ever-renewed struggle with grief. Through the morning Lucy was a welcome companion at her side, as she lay upon the sofa. Lucy, with a woman's tact, readily divined what had passed, and understood, moreover, Helen's reason for keeping silence thereon. She saw that her friend could not as yet bear to speak of her sorrows. The time would come when to speak of them would be a relief, and Lucy knew well that Helen would then choose no other than herself for a confidante. When in the afternoon Mrs. Cumberbatch made her appearance Helen did not view her approach with as much annoyance as usual. Friendly faces of whatever kind were welcome to her at present. Mrs. Cumberbatch made a few inquiries in a low tone with regard to Helen's health, then took a seat, and, in her ordinary manner, became absorbed in needle-work. We have mentioned that it was her habit to smile much to herself when thus occupied; but to-day she smiled to a quite extraordinary extent; so much so that Helen, who, perhaps for the first time, found some amusement in watching her, and speculating upon the character of her thoughts, felt sure that there was something more than ordinary upon her mind.

"Have you any news to-day, Mrs. Cumberbatch?" she asked, at length, almost surprised at the curious frame of mind which urged her to provoke the dialogue she generally so much dreaded.

"I presume you have yourself heard none, my dear -- h'm?" asked Mrs. Cumberbatch, in her quiet tone, looking at Helen out of the corners of her eyes, without raising her head from her work.

"None whatever," replied Helen, smiling slightly. "I see but little of what is known as 'the world.'"

"Then you know nothing of the strange occurrences at the Waghorns' -- h'm?"

"Nothing," replied Helen. "What occurrences do you allude to?"

She smiled as she asked, knowing well the kind of incident to which Mrs. Cumberbatch was wont to attach importance.

"Very strange occurrences indeed," said Mrs. Cumberbatch, slightly raising her eyebrows. "As yet they are only whispered among the intimate friends of the family. I should scarcely be justified in repeating them to anyone but yourself."

Helen continued to wear upon her face a look of interrogation.

"You will scarcely credit what I say, my dear," pursued Mrs. Cumberbatch, who evidently had the utmost delight in detailing her intelligence. "It is whispered -- only whispered -- that a dreadful scene took place in the house yesterday; in short, a terrible quarrel between Mr. and Mrs. Waghorn; the end of which was that Mr. Waghorn suddenly took a pistol out of his pocket and fired it at Mrs. Waghorn. Fortunately he missed his aim.

Helen looked at the speaker for some moments in the utmost astonishment.

"Surely, Mrs. Cumberbatch," she said, "this is some strange exaggeration."

"I should myself have thought so," replied the other, "had not I learned it from one who was all but a spectator of the incident, Mrs. Waghorn's own maid."

This she said with an air of great confidence, and with many motions of the eyebrows. Helen remained mute for a while, then suddenly asked --

"Do you know the hour at which this extraordinary event took place?"

"I think very shortly after noon."

Helen remembered that it had been nearly four o'clock when Maud's visit was announced to her. She sank into troubled reflections.

"But that is only part of the news," pursued Mrs. Cumberbatch. "Shortly after this occurrence, Mrs. Waghorn appears to have left the house on foot, and at noon to-day she had neither returned nor been heard of."

For Helen this was distressing news, not merely because she still retained a friendly interest in Maud and could not have heard of any misfortune happening to her without pain, but also for reasons which were extremely characteristic of her exquisitely sensitive mind, reasons which to ordinary persons would appear visionary, but which were sufficiently serious with Helen to cause her acute suffering at a moment when she had believed that her capacities for suffering were exhausted. She deceived herself in thinking that pain of her own could ever be so engrossing as to deprive her of sympathy with the pains of others, and the sympathy now excited in her on Maud's account found its own reward in the diversion of her thoughts from their previous rugged channel. At once she imagined to herself, with a vividness entirely new, all the wretchedness of a marriage which could result in events such as these; she realised for the first time the supreme unhappiness which must have formed the under-current of Maud's life for so long a time. And, as she did so, she reproached herself bitterly for that cold indifference on her own part which had led her to turn away from the playmate of her childhood as from one with whom she had nothing in common. More than ever did her conscience smite her when she reflected that only yesterday afternoon Maud had called to see her, and had been refused admission, when in all likelihood she came to make a last appeal for Helen's support, to beg {or advice in the midst of all manner of troubles and temptation. Certainly there had been no sufficient ground for refusing to see her. Helen blushed as she reflected that this had been one of the most flagrant cases of selfishness which memory could bring to her charge. Her conscience, moreover, took a wider range. One of the principal reasons for her constant neglect of Maud had been her own absorption in her daily work among the poor and the suffering. But, after all, did not charity begin at home? Was it right of her to neglect the opportunity of saving from wreck a life which had long been in such close connection with her own, because, forsooth, she was preoccupied with plans for the feeding and clothing of those who were complete strangers to her? Helen felt that there was something wrong in this. Perhaps her own sufferings of the last few days had taught her to appreciate more keenly than hitherto the fact that there are other pains in the world besides those involved in want of clothes or food, and that people who never knew what it was to lack these necessaries may yet be subject to perhaps acute torments. Helen feared that her method of thought had somewhat lacked breadth, that she would have been none the worse for nourishing a more universal charity.

These thoughts crowded upon her in the interval of the present conversation, but it was not till after she had revolved them for some days that they began to assume distinct shapes in her mind. In the meantime she made many attempts to discover the place of Maud's retreat, but altogether without success. In these attempts she made Mrs. Cumberbatch her ally, forcing herself at the same time to study that lady's character more closely than she had hitherto done and to discover what good elements it contained. She found that with the exception of a monstrous curiosity in all things, and a perverted bigotry in matters of religion, there was nothing especially objectionable in Mrs. Cumberbatch. Among her, at any rate more useful, qualities was a degree of worldly wisdom which surprised Helen, and which appeared likely to be of considerable use in the present undertaking. She appeared to have no doubt of the circumstances under which Maud had disappeared, stating plainly, though with that entourage of nods and frowns and interrogatory particles which always marked her communications, that Maud had gone off somewhere or other with Augustus Whiffle. In the course of confidential talk she incidentally owned to Helen that she had for some time been in the habit of receiving special intelligence from Mrs. Waghorn's fille de chambre, probably under the instigation of no other motive than unadulterated curiosity, and from this young woman she had learned secrets of a somewhat peculiar nature. One of these was that Maud had of late frequently lent considerable sums to young Whiffle to aid him in his enterprise on the turf, and had received back most of them with interest to boot. To Helen's horror, Mrs. Cumberbatch saw nothing at all unlikely in the supposition that Maud was at present living somewhere with Whiffle, who was doing his best for them both in those special kind of speculations to which his genius was adapted.

Mrs. Cumberbatch's sagacity and knowledge of circumstances had led her to a fairly just opinion of the state of affairs. A month or so after Maud's disappearance from London, a lady and gentleman of genteel appearance established themselves for a brief period in one of the finest hotels at Scarborough and made a great figure among the visitors whom the early spring found amusing or doctoring themselves at that fashionable sea-port. The pair were written down in the visitor's book as Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin. What title they had to this name will appear from a brief conversation between them as they strolled together one evening along the esplanade.

"I tell you," said the gentleman, who appeared slightly out of temper, "that it was nothing but a piece of devilish bad luck. The horse stumbled over a stone, or some other cursed thing that stood in the way, and so the race was lost and your five hundred at the same time. It couldn't be helped. We must just submit to it."

"If we have to submit to many more such little accidents," replied the lady, with an ill-pleased shrug, "I fancy we shall be obliged to dissolve partnership in consequence."

"Pooh, pooh, Maud," replied the young man, in whom the reader of course recognises Mr. Augustus Whiffle. "I thought you were too cool a hand to fret yourself on a matter such as this. Now look, I'll tell you something to revive your spirits. I've got the very best tip for the second spring Newmarket that ever fellow had. Sure to clear a gold mine. So cheer up, old girl."

The evening air soon becoming unpleasantly keen, Mr. and Mrs. Baldwin shortly returned to their hotel. On their way they passed the post-office. Augustus took the opportunity to enter and inquire for letters. He came out with two in his hands, one directed to himself, and one to Maud.

"Ho, ho!" exclaimed Augustus, as soon as he skimmed through his letter. "Here's a little news for you, Maud. Thompson writes me that Waghorn has gone past redemption, and that the house is for sale. He doesn't seem to know exactly what brought on the big smash. At all events everything is to be sold up -- advertised in yesterday's papers. Don't you feel disposed to go and bid for one or two of your own things?"

In the meantime Maud had glanced over her own communication, which was from a female acquaintance in London.

"Oh, don't flatter yourself you have the monopoly of news," she exclaimed, as she folded the letter up and replaced it in the envelope. "It may interest you to hear that Mr. John Waghorn has just filed a petition for divorce from his wife on the ground of her -- &c., &c. You can imagine the rest."

"The devil!" cried Augustus, suddenly standing still. "Are you serious?"

"Perfectly, and I have no doubt whatever the news is true. I am delighted to hear it. I'm off to town by the first train to-morrow morning!"

"But, I say, Maud -- damnation! Think of the infernal scandal. Why, I shall appear in the newspapers as corespondent."

"Of course you will," returned Maud, with the utmost nonchalance, "and in consequence I shall get my freedom. Thank your stars you have the power to confer a benefit on someone. I assure you, I'm perfectly delighted!"

In consequence of this intelligence the two returned to town the following day. Maud took a couple of modest rooms for the present in Gower Street, and Mr. Whiffle returned to his ordinary abode and his customary avocations, very much disgusted at the prospect of having his name ere long associated with proceedings in. the Divorce Court. His apprehensions were completely fulfilled. One morning early in May, Mrs. Cumberbatch had the pleasure of pointing out to Helen the following passage in a daily paper: --

"WAGHORN v. WAGHORN AND WHIFFLE.

"Mr. ---- appeared for the petitioner.

"The petitioner married the respondent in August, 1871, and they lived together at the former's residence in London until early in March of the present year, when the respondent left her husband, subsequently accompanying the co-respondent to several parts of England as his wife. The petitioner now prayed for a divorce on the ground of his wife's adultery. There was no defence, and the Court granted a decree nisi."

	As we shall not again have the pleasure of meeting personally with Mr. Augustus Whiffle, I may as well state that, despite the above little incident, his father's influence in time obtained for him a "cure of souls," to which was attached emoluments of a highly satisfactory nature. There is every reason to suppose that to the present day the reverend gentleman fulfils his ecclesiastical functions with, to say the least, all that ardour of disposition by which we have seen him so distinguished.




CHAPTER XIV

THE BEGINNING OF THE END

After the first shock of passionate grief had been lived through, and when Arthur was capable of calmly reviewing his position, he found that he could look forward to the future with something more than resignation. Nor will the reader be at a loss to account for this apparently strange condition. In constitution of mind eminently an idealist, he was yet, as we have had frequent opportunities of seeing, singularly dependent upon external influences for the shape which his idealism should for the time assume. The secret of his life lay in the fact that his was an ill-balanced nature, lacking that element of a firm and independent will which might at any moment exert its preponderance in situations of doubt. Hence it resulted that he was one of those men whose lives seem to have little result for the world save as useful illustrations of the force of circumstances -- one of those who, had Fortune directed his path amid congenial scenes, might have developed a rich individuality. As it was, though noble impulse unmistakably constituted the soil of his mind, adverse circumstances forbade his giving to the implanted seeds that care which might have nourished them into flower and fruit. All the more sensible was he to the influence of those who, assuming the position of his own will, exerted themselves to direct the cultivation of his nature. Once he had possessed such a guide in William Noble; at present he was as clay in the hands of Helen Norman. In both of these friends he felt the presence of that which he himself lacked -- a strong will; and in both cases he clung to the leadership of this will with a presentiment that it was his best resource. William Noble he had formerly followed from respect for his sterling character and admiration of his lofty aims. But both these feelings had yielded before the influence of Helen Norman, who established immutably, with the seal of passion, the power which her ideal character might only have exerted for a while. Thus it was that Arthur looked forward with a strange kind of pleasure to the strict pursual of the course which Helen had enjoined upon him. The fact that the injunction carried with it the infliction of fearful torture rather attracted than terrified him; he was about to suffer for her sake, in the pursuit of a noble ideal which she had set before him, and this consideration was to Arthur Golding an impulse stronger than that which any prospect of mere worldly ease could have afforded. Indeed, it was only in the pursuit of such ideals that he could ever hope to find ease. It was nothing to him that the way led through unheard-of suffering. Already he had suffered much more than falls to the lot of ordinary men, and he might reasonably hope that, by constant endurance, his torture would become his element.

To say that it was pure idealism which drove him onward to his dread task would not be the whole truth; there was also hope. To say that he hoped for an ultimate termination of his strife, that he hoped some day to be able to claim his reward, is but to say that he was a man. The hope was not one upon which he could permit himself to dwell, which, indeed, he could venture to contemplate as existing at all; but for all that it was there, no inconsiderable element of his determined courage. Instinctively he knew that Helen also was nursing the same hope. They were both young; both could wait, untroubled by the faintest distrust of each other's purposes. What power could forbid them to hope?

Arthur's first task was to re-discover Carrie. He could not tell whether she would again come to his lodgings, but it was possible, and he must not miss her in case she did. Accordingly, he took the resolution of telling Mr. Venning the facts concerning his marriage, and also his future intentions. This step taken, he began an active search. He knew that there was little chance of discovering Carrie in the day time, so through the day he applied himself steadfastly to his work, and at night went forth and wandered for hours about those districts where, as his former experience told him, women of Carrie's class were most wont to congregate. Save such vague guidance as this, he had absolutely no clue to her whereabouts. He frequently inserted advertisements in the newspapers, but they remained without answer. Many a time when walking late at night along the Strand, or in the Haymarket, or about Regent Street or Oxford Street, he caught a distant glimpse of a form resembling that which he sought; then he would hurry in pursuit, and only when the approach of his quick step had caused the girl to look round would find that he had been deceived. At such times he was absolutely proof against all seductive arts; the sensual part of his nature seemed for the present subdued before the seriousness of his task. Night after night he frequented scenes of gaiety, of debauch of the most depraved licentiousness, but always with the same sad, fixed face, the same impatient eagerness of glance, which denoted something very different from the pursuit of pleasure. He had somewhat the air of a gambler, wandering about in feverish search of an opportunity to retrieve his ruined fortunes. He never spoke to any one, and, as he lived in unbroken Silence during the day time, his manner showed that nervous shyness peculiar to those who live much in solitude. Possibly the nature of his search may also have contributed to make him timid and shrinking, for he dreaded to meet with Carrie at least as much as he desired to do so. His feverish imagination exhausted itself in the picturing of horrible circumstances amid which he might find her. Every crowd in the street caused him a vague dread. He became by degrees nervously sensitive to unusual noises; sometimes an unexpected touch when he was passing along the street would cause him to start violently. Doubtless much of this was due to ill-health, caused by want of sleep and the constant mental trouble he endured. Soon he had not even the resource of wholesome work, for alas! art was becoming once more distasteful to him. He missed the cheerful energy which had lately urged him on whenever he took up the pencil, the ever-active imagination revealing to him worlds of glorious possibilities, the rapid heart-beat which was his reward when he had achieved a success. Now he was obliged to force himself to his easel, and the labour of an hour wearied him inexpressibly in body and mind.

Already he had begun to ask himself whether this search could endure for ever, and what course he should pursue if unable to attain his object, when, one night towards the end of April, his wanderings came to an end. It had been a severe night, bitter with alternating snow, hail and rain, and with a piercing wind which never ceased to rush along the muddy streets, setting at defiance every protection. Despite the weather, Arthur had wandered about as usual, partly from mere habit, partly because his own room was intolerable to him. Though he had scarcely any hope of recognising the face he sought, he never ceased to scan the features of every woman that passed him, feeding the melancholy in his heart upon the endless variety of woe which was thus exhibited to him. But about eleven the storm became so fierce that it was hardly possible to stand against it. At this moment he found himself near a lighted entrance into which several people were hastening, and hither he too repaired, in the intention of seeking shelter till the violent hail was over. It was a narrow doorway, situated in a very shabby back street, and, as he entered, he found himself in front of a second door, on which was a large placard, exhibiting the words, "Tableaux Vivants." Hearing the sound of music within, he pushed the door open, and entered a moderate-sized room, lighted only by a jet of gas suspended from the low ceiling. Standing and sitting about the room were some thirty or forty men, engaged in watching the entertainment. Their eyes were directed to a small elevated platform, of circular shape, which was placed immediately under the gas-jet, the rays from which were concentrated upon it by means of a large shade. On the platform, which kept slowly revolving to the sound of a melancholy hand-organ, stood two women, at first sight apparently naked, but in reality clothed in tight-fitting tissue of flesh-colour. The fact that one was in the act of offering an apple for the other's acceptance rendered it probable that the group was meant to represent Adam and Eve. As the platform revolved, the two engaged in a slow pantomime indicative of conversation. Such was the entertainment, watched in silence, only broken now and then by a coarse laugh or a whispered comment. Of course it was meant to be vicious, and certainly was indecent in character; but surely not the severest moralist could have devised a means of showing more clearly the hideousness of vice. The cold, bare room, swept through by a gust from the street whenever the door opened, the wailing hand-organ playing a waltz in the time of a psalm-tune, and with scarcely a correct note, the assemblage of gross and brutal-featured men, whose few remarks were the foulest indecencies, the reek of bad tobacco which was everywhere present, the dim light, save on the revolving platform where the shivering wretches went through their appointed parts, -- surely only in England, where popular amusement is but known in theory, could so ghastly an ensemble attract a single spectator.

But to Arthur it was no opportunity for moralising. Scarcely had he taken half-a-dozen steps towards the end of the room where the platform was, before he suddenly stopped. As he entered, the backs of the women had been towards him, but now the revolution had brought their faces under the light, and that moment he knew that he had found Carrie. The one holding up the apple could be no other than she. Her features were paler and thinner than they had been even on the night when he last saw her. Her hair, which had always been wonderfully long and thick, now fell quite loosely upon her shoulders, and to below her waist. Her face was distorted with the semblance of a smile; but so intensely was she suffering from the cold that her parted teeth frequently chattered, and her hand trembled visibly.

On either side of the platform, green curtains shut off a portion of the room, and behind these the two performers disappeared as soon as their pantomime was at an end. Inquiry of the door-keeper informed Arthur that the payment of a shilling entitled the spectators to go behind the scenes, or, in other words, behind the green curtains. Almost throwing the money at the man, he hastened to avail himself of the privilege. Besides the two performers, who had cast over themselves a little extra clothing for the sake of warmth, he found two or three other women, evidently preparing to go upon the platform, and chattering the while with half-a-dozen low-looking men, who stood there with their hands in their pockets, smoking. At Arthur's entrance, Carrie raised her hands, with an artificial smile of welcome; but, recognising him the same moment, she involuntarily gave utterance to a low scream, and rose to her feet, as if with some thought of escaping. Arthur made no sign in reply, but simply drew near to the wretched girl and addressed her in a low voice, inaudible to the others present.

"I have been seeking you for many weeks, Carrie," he said, "and had almost given up in despair. Quick; dress, and come out of this horrible place."

"Come?" she repeated, as if not understanding, while every limb trembled. "Where to?"

"With me, with me," said Arthur. "I cannot explain. be quick."

"But I can't go," she replied. "I'm engaged for an hour yet. won't let me go," she added, nodding towards the other of the curtains.

"Who? The man at the door?"

"Yes."

"How much has he paid you?"

"He hasn't paid me yet; but he'll pay me five shillings at the end of the week."

"Dress at once, then. I will go and speak to him."

Half-a-crown to the man at the door removed all difficulties, and in a very few minutes the two issued together into the street.

The violence of the storm had by this time spent itself, but the rain still fell heavily. They hurried on together, side by side, in silence, till at length Arthur stopped before a small coffee-house.

"Are you hungry, Carrie?" he asked, turning and looking into her face.

She shook her head.

Beckoning her to follow, he pushed open the door and entered. In a few moments he had paid for a night's lodging, and, accompanied by Carrie, was shown upstairs into a small and not too clean-looking bedroom. The waiter gave him a candle and retired. Arthur turned the key in the door, and then faced Carrie, whose eyes had followed his motions with wonder.

"Last time I saw you, Carrie," he said, speaking in a low voice, lest he should be heard through the thin walls, "I behaved cruelly to you. You told me how anxious you were to return to a better life, and how you repented of the past, and yet I let you go away without a word of kindness or an offer of forgiveness. For a long time I have tried to find you, wishing to make amends for my unkindness. Now let us forget the past. Come and live with me again as my wife. Will you, Carrie?"

As he regarded the girl's suffering face, a deep feeling of compassion had by degrees awakened within his heart, and he nourished it eagerly, trusting that it might render his task easier to him.

"How can I be your wife, Arthur?" returned Carrie, sobbing. "You don't know what I have gone through; you don't know what a miserable wretch I am. I am not fit to be your wife."

"Yes," replied Arthur, "you are more fit than when we first met. You have suffered severely; you are better able to understand the pleasures of a quiet, virtuous life. You will no longer think me foolish when I urge you to improve yourself; you will feel that I was always anxious for your happiness, and could see more clearly than you how it was to be attained. I assure you I shall never think of the past, and you will soon forget it in the happiness of a better life. Have you still any love for me, Carrie?"

"I have always loved you," she said, weeping bitterly. "It isn't you as has been cruel to me, Arthur; it's me as has behaved as if I hated you, though all the while I loved you better than I ever loved any one else. It was all the drink; it drove me to do things and to say things as I shouldn't never have thought on, and as I didn't mean -- no, upon my word, I didn't. If I can only keep from drink, Arthur, I could be a faithful and hard-working wife, indeed I could. I'll do my best I will. But I feel I'm not fit to live with you. I never was fit."

"We won't talk any more about it, Carrie," said the young pressing her hand kindly. "It is possible to begin again and correct all our mistakes; for I have made mistakes as well as you. Only promise me that you will do your very best, for, you know, it cannot be done without an effort."

"Yes, yes, I will promise," said Carrie. "I'll do my very best, indeed I will. If I can only keep from drink you shan't have nothing to complain of. Kiss me, Arthur! Oh, it's so long since you kissed me, and I've always loved you, all the while."

He bent his head, and she clung to him with a fervour resembling that of the early days of their love. There was no feigning in this outbreak of passion, it was a genuine gleam of womanly nature making itself visible amid the foul gloom of a desecrated humanity. When she said that she had always loved him, she spoke the simple truth, strange and incredible as it may seem. This feeling it had been which had alone preserved her from sinking into absolute brutality, as the majority of such women do; upon its development depended her only chance of rising to a purer life. And Arthur, though he could not persuade himself into a belief of reviving passion, yet experienced so intensely the emotion of pity, felt so keenly the full pathos of her broken words, was so profoundly touched by the sense of her helplessness, that the thought of once more being a providence to the poor suffering outcast melted his heart, and for the moment made him forget to compare her with Helen.

Already, in anticipation of this event, Arthur had realised in cash one hundred pounds out of his Three Per Cents., and with this he was enabled to take and furnish two rooms for himself and Carrie. In order to remove her as far as possible from the temptations of the town, he chose his lodgings in a quiet little street in Hampstead, at this time of year a delightful neighbourhood, where he hoped that the calmness of the surroundings, the fresh, healthful air, and the constant presence of nature, would likewise act beneficially upon his own mood and renew his artistic impulses. It was with strange sensations that he sat down to pass the first evening in his new home with Carrie at his side. For more than a week the latter had been engaged in purchasing articles of clothing for herself. Arthur had not attended her on these shopping excursions, being unwilling to arouse the suspicion of distrust, and he had been astonished at the moderation which Carrie had exhibited in the quality and number of her purchases. It seemed as though she had made up her mind to destroy at a blow all the extravagant propensities of her nature, and to demonstrate by the severe simplicity of her external appearance the change which had come over her mind. To-night she sat in a dress of her own making, an extremely plain print gown with no trace of adornment; her hair done up into a single plait behind her head, and fixed with merely a piece of black ribbon. Attired thus, she still retained much of her old beauty, though her eyes were dark and heavy and there was a woeful hollowness in her cheeks. In her behaviour she was extremely quiet, not often speaking, sitting most of her time with an absent, melancholy look, and often sighing deeply. Her health was utterly shattered; even the performance of the lightest household work taxed her strength almost beyond its endurance. Yet as he sat gazing at her in the evening twilight, pretending to be engaged with a book, Arthur felt his heart warm with a glow of delight, which was no other than the glad sense of having performed a just action. He had once more raised Carrie from the depths of wretchedness to comfort and respectability. His mind was almost at ease this evening. There was something like hope pictured before him in the warm hues of the western sky, a calm, sober hope, which should have its source in nothing but the steadfast performance of duty. When at length his look met Carrie's by chance, he smiled upon her, with a kindliness which was scarcely distinguishable from affection.

In this way Arthur conscientiously did his best to adapt himself to his circumstances and render his life tolerable. His was a nature which ever found its amplest joy in the gratification of others, and during the first few weeks of his new life, he was even happy in watching Carrie's delight at every fresh instance of his thoughtfulness and care for her. He had recommenced his work, too, and was constantly engaged in making studies for what he meant should be a great picture, the subject to be the Pleading of Portia. As was always the case when a new and strong idea suddenly possessed itself of his mind, Arthur worked with the utmost enthusiasm for several weeks. Carrie he used for his model of the female form, for male figures he secured the services of a good-for-nothing, but finely-built and handsome young fellow who was perpetually lounging about the door of a public-house hard by, and who was only too glad to earn a few shillings by means so admirably adapted to his constitutional indolence. Having made his first rough cartoon, he purchased at some expense a fine work on costumes, by means of which he was enabled to clothe his figures in appropriate raiment. The scene which he was illustrating had been a favourite one with Mr. Tollady, who had many a time made Arthur read it aloud to him, insisting on the utmost nicety of tone and expression; so that the eager artist had his zeal redoubled by the dear recollections amidst which he worked.

Another incitement, too, he had, perhaps of a somewhat perilous character, but which he had persuaded himself was innocent. Ever since his love for Helen had unmistakably declared itself in his heart, her image had become for him the ideal of female excellence. So, whatever book he read, whatever fancies he meditated upon, as often as the figure of a noble woman was called up before his mind's eye, it inevitably appeared in Helen's shape, looked forth from Helen's eyes, and spoke in Helen's tones. Thus, in depicting Portia, it was Helen who sat for the likeness. An exquisitely graceful, yet tall and commanding, form; a firm, lithe neck, connecting head and trunk with ideal aptitude; features of classical purity, wherein every line spoke character, mobile, expressive of the finest shades of subtle thought and feeling, ravishing when lighted with a gleam of tenderness and joy, awe-inspiring when moulded to the utterance of rebuke, at all times the incarnation of lofty purity; such was the idea which Arthur had conceived of Portia, and which his heart held embodied in the shape of Helen Norman. Unable to wait for the completion of the subsidiary details of the picture, as soon as he had designed the main groups he threw himself upon the canvas with a desperate ardour, and scarcely laid down his pallet till, as it were, the ghost of Portia looked out upon him from the midst of still more ghostlike shapes. For the arrangement of the drapery Carrie stood as his model.

"Is it the Queen, Arthur?" she asked, one morning, when her eye was able to discern something of the commanding shape.

"Yes," replied Arthur, in a low voice, adding to himself -- "My queen."

"But you must put the crown on her head," urged Carrie, with an overwhelming sense of the importance of the symbol.

"Perhaps I may do; but I am not sure."

"Oh, but how can it be the Queen without a crown?" asked Carrie. "Nobody will know who it's meant for, Arthur."

"Perhaps not, Carrie, I must think of it."

With all sincerity, Arthur believed himself innocent in thus dwelling upon the memory of Helen's loveliness. He convinced himself that she was no longer a woman to him. She was now a mere personification of a principle, the bodily presentment of the high spirit she had breathed into his life, of unshakable consistency and aspiring effort. He felt that it was good for him that he should have her image ever present in his mind; it constantly reminded him of his promise to her, urged him not to falter for a moment in the path of self-sacrifice upon which she had bidden him enter. She was his patron saint, his divinity; he would scarcely have esteemed it folly to pray before her effigy.

When his hand sunk in weariness from its perpetual task, and his mind irresistibly craved relaxation from its intense toil, it was the occupation of hours to sit and dream of the time when his picture would be completed. He would send it to the Academy; it would be received, he felt sure it would be received; and there Helen would see it. Perhaps it would make him famous -- who could tell? Perhaps she would read glowing eulogies of him and his work. Oh, it was Heaven to wander through long summer evenings about the country lanes, feeding the fire of his imagination from the warm, rich sunsets, chastening the conceptions of his passionate heart in the calm, cool light of the rising moon.

At first he had always taken Carrie with him when he went on these evening walks, but by degrees her commonplace chatter, her vulgarisms of thought and language, her utter insensibility to the impressions of the season and the hour, rendered her company at such times intolerable to him. He could not bear that the deepest joys of which his nature was capable should be vexed and sullied by these wretched admixtures of vulgar inappreciativeness. Carrie had not the faintest conception of the beauties of nature; when amid delightful country scenes she yearned for the lights of the shops and the coarse tumult of the pavement. Though country-born and bred, the fresh air of the fields, the glad light of a cloudless heaven, the odour of flowers, the verdure of tree and meadow, awoke not a single tender reminiscence within her heart. She was emphatically a child of the town, dreaming of nothing but its gross delights, seeing in everything pure and lovely but a sapless image of some town-made joy. One evening Arthur endeavoured to make her appreciate the grandeur of a sunset scene from the Heath. After looking at it for some moments, she exclaimed, "It's almost as pretty as the theatre, isn't it?"

Comfort had a demoralising effect upon Carrie. In the midst of physical suffering she seemed to become somewhat finer natured, manifesting sensibilities worthy of respect, and, thanks to her personal beauty, exciting deep compassion and sympathy. But as the recollection of her pain began to lose its edge, she became perceptibly coarser; her language, her very features seemed to bear witness to the reviving animal within. Arthur observed this only too well; it made him shudder for the future. Scarcely had this genial life endured two months, before occasional words and actions on Carrie's part began to remind him of that hideous period in his life which preceded her desertion of him. Once more she showed signs of becoming headstrong and wilful; her temper was being aggravated by her constant ill-health. At first Arthur turned aside her impatience by the softest of answers, resolved to endure anything rather than be unfaithful to his task. He reflected that she had at least successfully struggled with her main vice for his sake; and it would be ungrateful to forget that. Everything was tolerable, compared with this ghostly phantom, which, though inactive, still seemed to sit by his fireside, brooding over horrors fatal to his peace.

But the phantom could not for ever remain inactive. One evening it began to stir -- very slightly, but very perceptibly. Carrie's health had rendered it necessary that she should be seen by a physician, and for several weeks she obtained from the latter bottles of medicine, which she kept on the top shelf of a cupboard in the bedroom. One evening when Carrie was out making purchases, Arthur had occasion to look for something on this top shelf. In front of the bottles of medicine, of which there were some half dozen, stood the wine-glass which served as a measure. This appeared to have been recently used, and in the bottom of it a little liquid still remained. Out of idle curiosity, Arthur took up the glass and smelt it. The smell seemed to inflict a sudden shock on his frame; he started and almost dropped the glass. He smelt again, then tasted the drop which the glass contained, and he could not doubt that it was pure brandy. With a trembling hand he took out each of the medicine bottles from the dark recess, and the last he took, which was also the largest, he found to be half full of spirits.

It was, of course, possible that the physician had ordered the use of brandy, but, in that case, why had not Carrie informed him of it? How slight a chance there was of such a supposition being true, when put face to face with that dark dread which ever sat by his hearth, which seemed to whisper a fearful contradiction in the silence of the room. At first he decided that he would affect an unrestrained manner, and ask Carrie plainly whether the spirits had been prescribed; but his very soul shrank from the possibility of hearing a shameless lie, which subsequent enquiry could at once expose. No, he could not speak to her about it; but he would adopt a plan just as sure. He would take the bottle, throw away the contents, and then replace it, empty, amongst the others; then await the result, if any.

This was on a Saturday. On Saturday evenings Carrie was always out a long time, owing to the number of purchases she had to make for the week. As a rule, Arthur welcomed this absence, enjoying the quietness it secured, and working at his easel as long as it remained light. But this evening he was once more a prey to that terrible mind-canker which robs of all delight in existence. For the first time he turned away from his picture in distaste, and paced the room in wretchedness of spirit. Was he, then, about to undergo once more those fearful tortures which had already once ended in all but his total ruin? He regarded his daily life with a bitterness which he had long succeeded in keeping aloof, and his heart nourished the seeds of anger against her who once more threatened to be his curse. "It is vain! It is vain!" he cried to himself, with the voice of his thoughts. "All my efforts are vain! I cannot raise her to my level; but I feel only too well that she has the power to drag me down to hers. It is my fate to suffer, to conceive plans and hopes which time only shatters, like a child its playthings."

Carrie had left the house at five o'clock, and it was nine before she returned. Arthur received her on her entrance with an angry face.

"How is it you are so late?" he asked impatiently.

"Late!" she repeated, with a careless tone. "I don't know as I'm late. I've been far enough to find something for your dinner, anyhow."

And, as she spoke, she flung her basket on to the floor. She had not gone out in the best of tempers, and apparently had returned not at all improved.

"You have been out about four hours," said Arthur, doing his best to speak calmly. "It is impossible for you to spend all that time in shopping."

"Is it?" she retorted. "Then do your own shopping next time, and see, that's all!"

And she straightway walked into the bedroom, banging the door behind her.

Arthur was left in that distressing state of body and mind which he knew only too well. His throat, tongue and lips parched and burning, his heart pressed down by a terrible weight, a sickness of the soul crushing his whole being. For the first time he tasted the full bitterness of the task he had taken upon him, and looked forward to the future as if into the very jaws of despair. Utterly unable to fix himself to any work, he took up a volume of poetry and tried to lose himself thus, but not a word impressed itself on his mind, and, after staring for an hour at a blank page, he turned out the light and went into the bedroom. Carrie was in bed, but not asleep. He addressed a few words to her, but, receiving no answer, he lay down in silence by her side, and tried to sleep. Hour after hour went by, finding him still wakeful, his forehead burning, his whole frame oppressed by the first onset of a fever. Carrie had soon fallen asleep, but into a sleep which was perpetually broken by tossings, mutterings, and occasional cries. Already the earliest morning light had penetrated through the blind when Arthur forgot his sufferings in a dreamless slumber.

Carrie awoke about ten o'clock, complaining bitterly of a severe headache. She evidently remembered nothing of what had occurred the evening before, but she was sullen, and, for the most part, silent. The morning was gloomy, threatening rain, but about noon it began to clear, and by two o'clock the sun was shining brightly. Carrie had declared herself too ill to rise, and had refused breakfast, which Arthur was obliged to prepare for himself as well as he could. As soon as the sunshine gave promise of endurance, he gladly seized on the chance of breathing fresh air, and prepared to go out. When he was ready, he went, after a moment's hesitation, to the bedroom door, and asked Carrie if she cared to accompany him. He received no reply, though he could see she heard him, and at once left the house alone.

For two or three hours he drank deep of the healthful summer air, refreshing body and mind in a wander over the Heath and out into the country beyond, thanking Heaven for the blessing of solitude. As was always the case when the fit of irritation had passed away, he thought of Carrie with pitying tenderness, accusing himself as the cause of all their misunderstandings, reproaching himself for lack of consideration towards her, in short, longing to return and ask her forgiveness for wrong he had never committed. In this mood he hastened homewards, arriving towards six o'clock. He hoped to find Carrie waiting for him, with a comfortable tea. Instead of that he found her still in bed, her face disfigured with signs of long weeping, her eyes red with meaningless passion. Mastering his disappointment, he approached the bed and said calmly --

"Don't you feel better, Carrie?"

"A great deal you care!" was the reply, in a fiercely passionate tone. "Better indeed! Ain't you sorry as you haven't found me dead? It 'ud a' been a good riddance, wouldn't it?"

"How can you say such things, Carrie?" asked Arthur, studiously maintaining a mild tone. "What has made you so angry with me?"

"Angry, indeed!" she pursued, her voice rising, though she still lay with her head motionless upon the disordered pillow. "What do you mean by going out and leaving me alone here for five or six hours? A deal you care what I suffer. Leaving me, too, without a mouthful to eat all day."

"Now, Carrie, don't talk foolishly," returned Arthur. "You know very well you indignantly refused to take any breakfast, and would not answer me when I asked you afterwards to have something to eat. And as to my going out, didn't I ask you before I went whether you cared to go with me? If you are not disposed for a walk, must I also remain moping at home?"

"You know very well," broke in the girl, "that I've not had a mouthful to eat all day. What do you mean by neglecting me as you do? What right have you to go out and leave me alone here, hour after hour?"

Arthur paused for a moment before speaking. It was only by a fierce internal struggle that he suppressed an angry reply to such inconsequent reproaches. At last he said --

"You are out of temper, Carrie, and don't know what you are saying. In a short time you will see how unjust you have been to me. Don't let us talk any more of it. Shall I make you a cup of tea?"

"Make tea for me, indeed!" she retorted. "It 'ud be something new for you to do anything for me!"

"You really think what you say?"

"Yes, I do, so there you have it straight. I've seen it day after day, how you neglect me more and more. Do anything for me, indeed! Not you! You only wish I was dead."

Stung to madness by the cruel injustice of these taunts, Arthur bit his tongue to keep down an angry reply, and at once left the room. But the air of the house stifled him; he could not remain indoors. In a few minutes he was once more pacing quickly along the quiet street, heedless where he went, only driven perpetually onward by a devouring fire within his breast. Oh, he knew the meaning of the scene just enacted only too well. Despite his precautions, Carrie had once more fallen beneath the power of her old vice; most likely she had been drinking all the time of his absence. Certainly it was foolish to be made angry by the senseless clamour of a drunken woman, but human nature contains a far greater portion of passion than of philosophy, and only after an hour's violent bodily exercise did Arthur regain something of calmness. Till the moon and stars were bright above him, he wandered about the fields and lanes, pondering with a dogged persistency, the result of hopelessness, on the means of rendering his life at least tolerable. It was clear to him that he must have more society, that he must create for himself some more definite and immediate aim than that which his higher purposes in art afforded. If he could not conquer the terrible evils of his domestic life, the only course left for him was to flee from them. When at length he returned home, he had conceived a plan which he resolved the following day should be enacted.

Carrie slept soundly throughout the night, and in the morning awoke vastly improved. With true womanly logic she refused to acknowledge that she had been wrong, but yet asked Arthur to forgive her. With a smile and a sigh Arthur accorded the desired forgiveness. He did not venture to hint at the true cause of what had happened, for, indeed, at the moment he dreaded more a repetition of Carrie's violence than the results of leaving her vice unreproved. The same morning he wrote a letter to the editor of a well-known popular weekly journal, stating that he was an artist, and very much wanted to find employment in the illustration of works of fiction and the like. He requested that the editor would grant him an interview, for the purpose of exhibiting specimens of his workmanship. In a day or two he received a brief reply, merely stating that the editor had no vacancy at his disposal, and that therefore the desired interview would be useless. Not discouraged, Arthur addressed himself by turns to several other papers, and, after some three weeks, was fortunate enough to find occasional employment in beautifying the pages of a weekly paper, the character of which was, however, far below what he had aimed at. But his main object was gained, for he was thus enabled to form a few acquaintanceships, and so break, in some degree, the intolerable monotony of his life.

For, in the meantime, things had become steadily worse. Shortly after the outbreak just described, Carrie one day threw aside all concealment, and was found by Arthur, on his return from a sketching excursion, mad with drink. For several hours during the night, he had to restrain her by force from making her way out of the house, and her yells and shrieks were plainly audible by passengers out in the street. On the day after, they received notice to quit from their landlady, and within a week removed to a lodging in Highgate. But change of locality made no alteration in Carrie's habits. Having once more surrendered herself, body and soul, to the passion for drink, it seemed as if no earthly power could check her course to utter ruin. Entreaties, arguments, adjurations, menaces, all were tried by the wretched man whose wife she called herself, sometimes with momentary effect, never with enduring benefit. Her character underwent a sensible and rapid change for the worse. She seemed to have lost all sense of shame, and, in the brief moments when she could converse peaceably with Arthur, took endless delight in describing to him the horrors of her life in the interval of her separation from him, relating details which a woman of the least sensibility would have shrunk from ever recalling to mind. More and more did Arthur absent himself from her, passing his time either in the company of such acquaintances as his connection with the paper had secured him, and who were, on the whole, miserable creatures, or else in wandering about the town alone, nursing his despair, and brooding over all manner of desperate thoughts. Sometimes a revival of the old enthusiasm would lead him to spend a whole day in the National Gallery, or among the antiques of the British Museum, but very rarely now did he conceive an impulse sufficiently strong to call him back to his easel. He visited the theatres frequently, and at one time suddenly conceived the idea of turning his thoughts to literature and writing a play. But even in his imagination this work never got beyond the first act, and not a word was ever written. By degrees he came to exhibit very much the appearance of a listless, idle man about town. He even paid more attention to his external appearance than of old, a sure sign that his mind was ceasing to furnish him with occupation. Yet, amid all this rapid degeneration, he never sank into absolute vice. From that he was withheld by the ever present aspect and voice of that pure being whose effigy still graced the undefiled sanctuary of his soul. Helen's parting words were as loud in his ears to-day as they had been when spoken, months ago. These alone could supply him with courage to live, these alone forbade him to utterly relinquish the task they had imposed.

But, in truth, it was an utterly hopeless task, one which, if persevered in, could only lead to death, first of the soul, then of the body. Though there occurred lucid moments in which Carrie gave way to passionate weeping and wailing over her misdoings, entreating forgiveness with an almost fierce persistency, and vowing reformation in the name of all conceivable sanctities, yet these were but moments, and were followed, as they had been preceded, by whole days, sometimes weeks of disgusting debauch. Owing to her disreputable conduct, Arthur was compelled to change his abode repeatedly, coming at each time nearer to the town, for the sake of the increased privacy which -- paradoxical as the assertion seems -- a crowded neighbourhood secured for them. At each of these removals Arthur made a fresh desperate endeavour to check her madness, but always with a result so utterly disheartening, that he was obliged to content himself with being as much away from home as possible. All the terrible scenes which had been so familiar to him during the old life in Huntley Street were now re-enacted, though with more terrible earnestness, and against a background of the deepest gloom. All the old tricks to obtain money were once more resorted to, and, since the furniture of the room was now Arthur's own, it now was easier to find the means of procuring drink than it had been before. Arthur noticed day by day that articles disappeared, but remonstrance, angry or gentle, was utterly vain; he was obliged to submit to the inevitable.

Early in December an event occurred which was destined to bring about the end of this terrible conflict. One evening Carrie had strayed out of Camden Town, where the two were then living, as far as Tottenham Court Road. Though the wretched girl had been powerless to resist the temptations of her master-vice, she had hitherto continued to preserve sufficient regard for Arthur's feelings to keep her from renewing her associations with the old companions of her abandoned life, though the inducements to do so had often been strong and the opportunities manifold. To-night she was in a despondent mood, resulting from a long period of debauch, and was beset with an overpowering desire to find some kind of companionship. She well knew where this companionship was to be had; she well knew that a quarter-of-an-hour's walk would place her in the old sphere of licentious gaiety; and she asked herself what it was that withheld her from satisfying her longing. Carrie never reasoned about anything; to apply that term to her mental processes would be a hopeless error of nomenclature; but even now, as the temptation rose in her mind, a vague species of emotion rose to oppose it, a flickering shadow of that feeling which, in a purer being, would have been gratitude to a benefactor. Brought to a pause in this faint involuntary reaction, she stood and gazed into a shop window, a jeweller's, such a window as had always exercised a baneful influence over her. Already she had begun to reflect how easily she could procure the means and the opportunity of decking herself in some of the gaudiest trinkets exposed for sale, when a voice sounded in her ear, a voice which she knew well, and which made her start. Turning, she met the look of no less a person than Mistress Polly Hemp.

"Well, I'm blest!" exclaimed Polly, who had not perceptibly changed in appearance since Carrie last parted from her. "And is it really you! Why, I never thought to see you again."

"And I don't know as ever I thought to see you, Polly," replied the other, after a hesitation of a second or two. "How do you do?"

"Pretty middlin'. And what are you up to here, eh? But come, talking's thirsty sort o' work. I don't like to be shabby when I meet a old friend. Come and liquor."

Again a hesitation, this time perceptible.

"What!" pursued Polly, "You've growed proud, have you, Carrie. Above drinkin' with me, eh?"

It was decided. Carrie turned and accompanied her tempter, following the voice of Fate.

* * * * * * * * * *

About a week after this meeting, Carrie took advantage of a day when she knew Arthur would be absent till late in the evening to invite Polly Hemp to visit her in her own lodging in Camden Town. There was something of vanity in this invitation, as well as a desire for companionship, for she was not sorry to show to one who had known her in her most miserable days the comparative luxury amid which she now lived. Fortified by the inevitable bottle of spirits, the two discussed each article of furniture, went over Carrie's wardrobe, and even ransacked the drawers containing Arthur's apparel, Polly Hemp all the time exhausting herself in eulogies.

"All I can say is," she exclaimed at length, "you may think yourself deuced lucky, Carrie, to have dropped into such a crib. And your 'usband a hartist, is he? I'll go bail he makes a bloomin' sight of tin out of it, too. Now don't he, eh?"

Carrie shrugged her shoulders.

"I don't know as he does," she replied. "At all events I don't get much out of it."

"Then it's a cursed shame, that's all I've got to say!" affirmed Polly, after tossing off some half-quartern of raw whiskey at a gulp. "And you say he even grumbles at your having a drop o' something comfortable now and then? I'm blest if it isn't a shame!"

"Yes, and him with so much money, too, he don't hardly know what to do with it," put in Carrie, with a wink.

"Has he, though?" asked the other, sharply, the old evil light gleaming in her little pig-eyes. "Has he, though?"

"Never you mind," returned the other. "He don't know as I know of it. But I know if the money was mine, I wouldn't be so mean with it."

Carrie's voice stammered somewhat as she spoke. At present she was in that maudlin condition which with her always preceded a period of hopeless intoxication.

"But how much has he got, eh, Carrie?" asked Mrs. Hemp, in an insinuating voice. "No secrets 'tween friends, you know."

"No more there shouldn't be, Polly," returned the girl. "You look here, and hold your eyes tight for fear they drop out of your head -- ha, ha!"

As she spoke she staggered up from her chair, and leading the way into the bedroom, with some difficulty unlocked one of the top drawers in a chest. At first sight this appeared to be filled with drawings of all kinds, but Carrie, lifting up these, drew from underneath a large leather pocket-book. Out of this she took a folded piece of paper, and, holding it still in her hands, allowed Polly to glance at it. The paper was a printed form, headed "Consolidated 3 per Cent. Annuities," after which, on the same line, were written the figures 5,000.

"Do you know what that means, eh, Polly?" asked Carrie, her face distorted in a grin of foolish glee.

"No fear," returned the other. "'Tain't the first time as I've seen that kind o' thing. My God! What a heap o' tin! And he don't know as you're up to this, eh?"

"Trust him," said Carrie, winking. "And he's got more than this. He has a bankbook, too. I see it wunst, but I don't know where it is now. Ain't I in for a good spree some day?"

"I believe you," agreed the other, leering hideously.

Shortly after this, the two went out together, and, after visiting sundry favourite haunts, ultimately bent their steps to Polly Hemp's own abode. Throughout the day Polly had continued to urge her companion to drink, and now that they took their seats one on each side of the fireplace, in the kitchen with which the reader is already familiar, they had still glasses on their laps, from which they solaced themselves unstintingly.

"I believe you, Carrie," said Polly, resuming a subject she had constantly harped on through the day. "You are a lucky wench, if ever there was one. I s'pose your 'usband's made his will?"

"I don't know," replied Carrie, giggling.

"You take my advice, and find out," remarked Polly bending forward, with one eye closed. "If he was to go and kick the bucket, and hadn't made no will, I s'pose you know as you wouldn't have all that tin?"

"Who says I shouldn't?" asked Carrie, defiantly, making a motion with her hand which spilled half the liquor from her glass.

"Why, I say so," pursued Polly, "and what's more, the law says so. I say, Carrie, what a kick up we would have if you was to come in for that tin, eh?"

Carrie made an expressive gesture.

"My God! Wouldn't we!" continued Polly; then added, in a lower and impressive voice, "But, I say, if your 'usband was to go and make his will and leave it all to somebody else? How then, Carrie?"

Carrie's countenance fell for a moment.

"I don't believe as how he'd do that," she replied, with a shake of the head.

There was a silence of some minutes, during which the fire crackled loudly in its efforts to seize firm hold of an obstinate piece of coal, and at length, achieving the victory with a miniature explosion, which scattered pieces of glowing slate upon the hearth, flared up and illumined vividly the faces and figures of the two women. There was an unusually wicked expression in Polly Hemp's eyes as they looked alternately at the glass on her lap and the face of her companion. Apparently she was meditating.

"Now tell the truth, Carrie," she said at length, with a low laugh, "you wouldn't cry your eyes out if your 'usband was to kick the bucket to-morrow."

"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed the girl, raising the glass to her lips, "I don't know as I should -- quite."

"Well," pursued the other, consolingly, "there's worse things than that happens every day. And more unlikely things, too. My God! What a lark we would have. Nobody to put a stop on your drink then, Carrie. Nobody to say as you shouldn't go here, or shouldn't go there. Eh?"

She had drawn her chair a little nearer to her companion's, and was looking significantly into her face.

"Yes, yes; we'd have a lark, if it was the last!" muttered Carrie, who appeared to be thinking.

"Do you know what I should think, Carrie," pursued Polly Hemp, with devilish insinuation, "if I was in your shoes?"

"What's that?"

"Well -- I don't say as I should, you know -- but I might p'raps think as how there was other helps to widow's caps besides the fever, and the small-pox and sich like."

"Eh?" said the girl, looking into the speaker's face as if she had not understood her meaning.

"Why, I might p'raps think as there's other deaths besides nat'ral deaths, Carrie; d'ye see? And I shouldn't be the first as had thought that either -- no, nor the first as has done more than think it, too, and lived happy ever after, as they say."

Polly's face had approached very near to Carrie's as she spoke, and a gleam of something like pleasure had risen to it as she noticed at length her hint was understood. But her pleasure was only short-lived. For a moment Carrie turned her head away, as if to think over what had been said, then, with a movement as sudden as unexpected, she dashed the contents of her glass full in the eyes of her tempter, exclaiming as she did so --

"Not so bad as that neither. Take that, Polly Hemp, and good-night to you!"





CHAPTER XV

LEAVE-TAKINGS

However lightly others might skim over or altogether cast aside the tasks of the stern schoolmaster, Life, their strict and conscientious performance was to Helen Norman a duty which she durst not neglect under any circumstances. Despite the fact that she was sadly conscious of the poor results which had in the aggregate attended her long months of labour among the destitute, despite the weary burden of unabated suffering which ceaselessly weighed upon her heart, despite the fact that her health was unmistakably giving way, that the dread signs of hereditary disease daily became more pronounced -- no argument could as yet induce her to cease from her daily work. But this work had by degrees undergone a modification, partly owing to her failing strength, partly in consequence of reflection and much discussion with Mr. Heatherley. Instead of toiling day after day through the wearisome miseries of a whole large district, she had resolved to confine her attention to one fixed locality of small extent. By so doing she was enabled to acquire a completer knowledge of the needs of the poor to whom she ministered, and also had the power of affording more substantial assistance where it was really deserved. But it was to her evening school that she now devoted herself with the utmost ardour, looking to her work therein for higher and more wide-spreading results than her mere charitable exertions could be expected to produce. Here her efforts received each week their unmistakable reward. Those girls who at their first coming to her she had found rude in manner and speech, grew by degrees gentler and more refined, the deplorably ignorant gradually struggled out of their slough and began to show that they were creatures possessed of mind as well as body, the few who had already begun to yield to the fascination of vulgar vice became ashamed of their conduct when in their teacher's presence and from the mere sound of her voice, the radiance of her beauty, conceived ideas of a purer life. From two evenings in the week, Helen, during the summer, increased the attendance to three, with appreciably good result, and was already contemplating a yet wider extension of her work in the sphere where she felt herself especially adapted for usefulness.

But her noble nature was not destined to attain to that perfection of active benevolence which she more ardently yearned after in proportion as her physical powers grew less and less capable of performing their part in the grand work. Towards the middle of the summer, notwithstanding the prevalence of genial weather, Helen contracted a severe cold, followed by a cough which would yield to no degree of careful treatment. She herself surmised only too clearly the significance of this cough, and the physician she was ultimately persuaded to consult confirmed her in her fear. He had at first appeared timid and inclined to ease his patient's mind by euphemistic expressions and consolatory predictions; but Helen at once told him that she had for some time suspected the truth, and begged that he would not think her so weak-minded as to be unable to face the future with all its consequences. The physician made close inquiry into her habits of life, and at once urged that she should cease at all events the severest parts of her work, in particular the work of the school. But to this Helen could on no account be brought to consent. She said that if her life was to be held on but brief tenure, so much the more need that she should labour to the utmost while it lasted. Seldom chargeable with weaknesses distinctly feminine, in this matter Helen showed herself a true woman. She would listen to no argument. Her work, her work, that was her only thought.

Mr. Heatherley was a constant visitor at Holly Cottage, but Helen did her utmost to conceal from him the failure of her health. The increasing paleness of her cheek, the constant cough, these she could not prevent his observing, but any reference which he made to these signs of weakness was at once put aside and made light of. Moreover, Helen fancied she observed that the frequent visits of Mr. Heatherley were not entirely for her own sake, and it pleased her to think they were not. Able to sympathise as few could with poor Lucy's quiet, self-restraining unexpectant devotion, she lost no opportunity of directing the clergyman's attention to her companion's many virtues, and it afforded her keen pleasure when she thought she could observe Mr. Heatherley's eyes more frequently resting upon the sweet face of the timid girl. Once or twice she had purposely allowed Mr. Heatherley to remain alone in the room with Lucy for half an hour; and after each such conversation she made herself happy in the belief that the clergyman's face wore a happier look than usual. Yes, it was a true pleasure which her pure nature derived from the prospect of poor Lucy being requited for her long and patient love; but she would have been more than human had not the thought of so much happiness at times smitten as with the breath of a cold and deadly wind upon her heart, and forced into her eyes tears of bitterest anguish.

Poor Helen! It seemed as though Fate had decreed she should pass through the deepest and darkest waters of suffering without the consolation of any hand clasped within her own. From the depths of her own heart could come her only comfort, and alas! how often did it seem to her as though too constant draughts from the spring had at length exhausted its resources. It would be vain to endeavour to depict in mere words the suffering she endured even on her days of least depression. The unconquerable dread of being left alone with her thoughts, the fearful anticipation of what her life would become if she yielded to her feebleness or relinquished her work, this feeling had perhaps equal strength with pure devotion to principle in determining her to work on at all costs. Could she but have heard of or from Arthur from time to time, could she but have known that he was working on stoutly at his art -- nay, could she have received news of his death, anything would have been preferable to this losing sight of him entirely.

Often in the early summer dawns she awoke from a brief and troubled slumber, crying "Arthur! Arthur!" In her dreams she was for ever seeking him, seeking him over wild, trackless deserts, amidst ghastly shapes and horrors unutterable. Often she saw his form afar off, always far off, beyond the sound of her voice which called upon him in tones of heartrending anguish; and, bitterest suffering of all, he generally appeared to her not alone, but with a vague shape by his side, the shape of a woman. Yes, that was Arthur's wife. 0 God! To think that a wretched being, so unworthy of the least of Arthur's smiles, so incapable of appreciating a word he uttered, of entering into the very humblest of his aspirations, to think that such a one could boast herself his wife! Oh, it was unjust, cruelly unjust. In her bitterest moments she said in her heart that injustice was the beginning and the end of all things human.

Towards the end of August she was sitting one evening quietly in Lucy's company, when the last post brought two letters, one addressed to herself, one to her companion.

"A letter for you, Lucy?" she said, smiling. "That is indeed an unusual thing."

"Whoever can it be from?" exclaimed the other, scanning the direction closely. As she did so, a blush rose to her cheek. She looked timidly up at Helen, who was however already engaged in reading her own letter, then she broke open the envelope. Her first glance was at the last page, then, slightly averting her face, she began to read with an almost frightened countenance, the paper rustling tremulously in her hand.

The contents of Helen's letter appeared to be interesting. We will transcribe them --

"Versailles,
"Aug. 18th, 1872.

"My Dear Helen, --
"How well I can imagine your grave surprise on opening this letter and seeing the signature of a shameless runaway. I cannot tell how much or how little you know of my story, which really I may some day be tempted to present to you in the familiar three volumes. I think it might go down excellently with the patrons of Mudie's, especially if the character of the heroine were a trifle idealised; that, I am sure you will agree with me, would be absolutely necessary. But whether you know much or little, you have in all probability heard enough to convince you that I have suffered all sorts of horrors, and that I may fairly lay claim to your congratulations on the occasion of my once more becoming a free denizen of this tolerable world of ours.

"Yes, Helen; I made a mistake. In marrying Waghorn I knew that I was marrying a wealthy fool, if not something worse, but I had convinced myself that, beyond my change of name, I should be able to keep myself as distinct and separate from 'my husband' as though I had still been single. I married, in fact, for the sake of a position. Now-a-days an unmarried woman of more than one-and-twenty stands in an anomalous situation. Her maidenhood brings with it absolutely nothing but disadvantages. You will say that I might have made a better match. Well, I suppose I might; but, to tell you the truth, there was something of perversity in my act I had always a strange pleasure in doing and thinking differently from other people, in forcing circumstances to suit my own whims rather than in bending myself to circumstances. In this case I had resolved to have the delight of leading an agreeable life amid surroundings which would have driven any other woman crazy. Of course I had miscalculated my own powers. I found that I had to deal with quite an exceptional brute, and at length I bitterly repented my folly.

"Now this letter is meant to be a little reproachful. Among all my acquaintances in London there was one, and one alone, who ever had any power over those tenderer impulses of my nature which it is customary to call the better part of one. One acquaintance I had who, by continuing what she had once been to me, a frank friend, might often have lightened my suffering and guided me in the paths of prudence -- that is the word I prefer to substitute for such high-flown terms as 'virtue,' 'honour,' or even 'wisdom.' But that acquaintance was too much disgusted with my lack of seriousness to long retain her interest in my doing or suffering. Even at the eleventh hour, when I had determined to leave 'my husband's' house, but was as yet uncertain where to go, I called upon this acquaintance of mine; but, alas! she was too unwell to see me; and so -- Never mind what followed. Can you guess who the acquaintance was?

"No, no, Helen; I am not, after all, writing to reproach you, but merely to let you know that I am once more comfortable, and probably in a fair way to be so for the rest of my life. What interest was it likely you could take in me and my affairs? We were pursuing such wholly different paths; both of us philosophers, but belonging to what different schools. You were a species of Stoic, given up to the pursuit of intensely serious aims, which aims presupposed the sacrifice of your own pleasures. You could see nothing good in a life which was not wholly devoted to the benefit of others. You were pre-eminently sage, in the French sense of the word. Who could imagine Helen Norman in love, to say nothing of being married? But I, for my part, was a sort of Epicurean; and yet I think not exactly an Epicurean, but that term is the closest my philosophical knowledge will supply. I looked upon the world with contempt, and made gratified egotism the sole end of my existence. How was it likely you could continue to be my friend?

"You will say that I must have seen that my philosophy is delusive, and that consequently I have given it up. Pas du tout, ma chère. I still pursue with intense avidity what I have ever considered the main object of this frivolous life. And shall I tell you to what it has brought me? I am on the point of being affianced to -- to a Russian Prince! Yes; believe it or not, as you please. Poor fellow! He has been desperately in love with me for -- can you believe it? -- more than a month. Though I am not yet technically divorced, he persists in considering me so, and threatens to make me his property as soon as possible. Papa looks upon the undertaking with a quiet smile of -- I know not what. All the reply I can get from him on this matter is, 'Mais, cela ne me regarde pas; c'est une affaire à toi, ma fille.'

"Think of me occasionally, Helen; and, when you do so, picture me amid the horrors of a Russian winter, over the ears in bear skins. Are you happy, yourself? I will hope so, but I have my doubts. Depend upon it your philosophy is horribly unpractical. Think it over, there's a good girl. Your Russian prince may even now be waiting for you, if only you knew it.

"Yours affectionately, dear Helen,
"Maud."

	Helen laid aside the letter with a deep sigh, and for a few moments was sunk in her own reflections. When she at length looked up, she saw that Lucy's eyes were fixed upon her, with a curiously mingled expression of pleasure and pain.

"Will -- will you please to read this, Miss Norman?" asked Lucy, holding out the open letter, her face suffused with a deep blush.

Wondering much what the contents could be, Helen took it and read. It was a proposal from Mr. Heatherley, a manly letter, very characteristic of the writer. There was no rapturous declamation, no exaggerated passion; merely the. offer of a deep and unwavering affection, of a share in all his future joys and sorrows, of active participation in his life's work. Far from drawing imaginative pictures of a lover's paradise, he clearly intimated that the duties of a clergyman's wife were often laborious, often distasteful, and she who would fulfil them duly must be distinguished by piety, good sense, and infinite patience. Of all these he believed Lucy was possessed, for h had long watched her closely and every new discovery he had made had served to strengthen his affection by convincing him that it was based on reason. He urged her not to be hasty in her reply, but to write to him after several days' consideration.

"And your answer, Lucy?" asked Helen, smiling, though with something of sadness.

The girl at once left her chair and seated herself on a low stool at Helen's feet. As she spoke she looked up into the latter's face, and her eyes were suffused with tears.

"I cannot leave you!" she whispered, whilst the tears slowly gathered and overflowed. "I could never leave you!"

"Dear, affectionate child!" exclaimed Helen, passing her arm round Lucy, and looking down upon her with a calm tenderness which seemed to invest her pale Madonna-like face with a halo of sanctity. "Do you really mean that your love for me would overpower that you have so long felt for Mr. Heatherley?"

"Indeed -- indeed I feel it does," sobbed Lucy. "Now you have more need than ever of me, now that you are so weak and suffer so much. How could I leave you alone, or, still worse, bear to think that some one else was filling my place in your regard? I am sure Mr. Heatherley does not know how ill you are, or he could not wish to persuade me to leave you."

"But it is hardly fair, dear," replied Helen, "to make Mr. Heatherley's chance of a wife depend upon the state of my health. Mr. Heatherley I am sure wishes me well, but to expect him to remain a bachelor for an indefinite period on my account would be rather too much."

There was silence, during which Lucy sat with her face resting upon her hands.

"Do you love him well enough," pursued Helen, still with the same calm smile upon her lips, "to take him as your husband? Are you undaunted by this formidable array of wifely duties?"

"No work could be too severe if he set it me," replied Lucy, without uncovering her face.

"Then," continued Helen, "much as you regret leaving me, Lucy, you must not let that influence your answer. Who am I that I should hold you back before such a prospect of happiness? We need not part for ever, dear."

"Not yet, not yet!" exclaimed the other, her sobs breaking out afresh. "The winter is coming on, the time when you will need more care than ever. I could not leave you till the warm weather returns and you are quite strong and well again."

"I am not sure that I shall be here through the winter, Lucy," replied Helen, with a slight sigh. "The doctor has been warning me very seriously of late that it might be absolutely necessary to seek some warmer climate before the winter begins. I think he is too anxious, but still I must not endanger my possibilities of future work by neglecting a few precautions. And it would never do for me to take you into foreign countries. You might come back a Russian Catholic, and what would Mr. Heatherley say then? Promise me that you will answer this letter in the affirmative, and at once. I earnestly desire it. You will not refuse to please me?"

"I am so young," urged Lucy. "I have so much to learn. In a year you would teach me so much. Let me wait one more year."

"Mr. Heatherley will make a better instructor than I, Lucy," said Helen.

There was something of yielding, of reluctance in her friend's tone which strengthened Lucy's purpose. Helen had often said to her that without her she would indeed feel lonely, and the affectionate girl could not bear that a reason she thought selfish should be the cause of her leaving Helen now that the latter was ill in health. Knowing, too, all that Helen had suffered from the destruction of her life's hope she could not bear to set before her a picture of happiness which could only render her desolation more bitter. Armed with the strength of a pure unselfishness she spoke in a tone of decision which surprised her friend.

"Miss Norman, I must beg you to let me have my own way in this. I could not be happy if I left you at once and married Mr. Heatherley. And indeed I am too young; I have too little experience. It will be much better for him to wait another year."

"With what terrible calmness you speak of a year, Lucy," said Helen, half jestingly, half sadly. "Is it not presumption in you to look forward so far into time, and say: At the end of a year I will do such and such a thing? Especially in so grave a matter as this, delay may mean the sacrifice of a life's happiness. You must not think that our parting will be so absolute, Lucy. Mr. Heatherley will not monopolise you. As soon as I get rid of this weakness and can go out again and attend to my work I shall often call at your house in the afternoon and ask you to let me sit in your parlour for half an hour. Then you will make me a cup of tea in your daintiest manner, and perhaps you will cut me thin slices of bread and butter, like you do now when you wish to coax me to eat. Oh, what chats we will have! Doesn't the picture tempt you?"

Lucy shook her head.

"When you are quite well again, Miss Norman," she said; "but not till then. I will tell Mr. Heatherley that if he will wait for me till next midsummer I will be his wife. But not till then."

"And you will keep the promise, Lucy, whatever should happen to me -- I mean," she added quickly, "you will not let my state of health influence you then. In any case it shall be next midsummer? Promise me that solemnly, Lucy. It will be a great comfort to me."

"I promise," said Lucy, with a sigh.

"That's right! Kiss me, dearest. Why, next midsummer will be here in no time. The secret of making time pass quickly, Lucy, is to have something to look forward to. Time has gone rather slowly with me of late; it may now be so good as to mend its pace."

It will be seen from this conversation that Helen had at length been induced to reflect upon her condition and to allow some weight to prudent counsels. Her physician, an eminent practitioner, who took the utmost personal interest in her case, had exerted all his powers of argument to induce her to cease her work, ultimately addressing her in a tone of kindly authoritativeness which it was impossible to resist. He had, moreover, given her to understand that it would be quite impossible for her to remain throughout the winter in England; under such circumstances he could not promise that she would live to see the spring. With a sad sigh and many a gloomy anticipation, Helen had at length yielded. Very hard had she begged to the last moment to be permitted to continue her school. The most that the physician would allow her to do was to receive some three or four of her most promising pupils at her own home during the evening.

A sad task remained before her, that of bidding farewell to her class. This now consisted of some five-and-twenty girls, at least half of whom had been receiving her lessons for more than a year. It was Saturday night that she chose to visit the school-room for the last time, for on that evening the attendance was always much fuller than on the other two. Mr. Heatherley was apprised of her intention, and promised to be present.

The knowledge of what was about to occur had somehow circulated among the girls, and it was with more than ordinary solemnity that they resumed their places on the evening in question, and, without opening their books, sat in expectation of Miss Norman's rising. Mastering with difficulty a sob which rose in her throat, Helen stood up, and, after glancing for a moment over all the expectant faces, began to speak in a low and unequal voice --

"It is with the deepest sorrow that I have to tell my pupils to-night that I am compelled to bid them good-bye. I hope you feel sure that it is not a slight cause which would make me give up my position as your teacher, a position which I value beyond expression, which has been the means of affording me a long series of very, very happy hours. But I am warned by those whose sincerity I cannot doubt, that I could not with safety continue to give these lessons; my health would not allow it. I have consented to cease -- but, I firmly hope and trust, only for a few months. That has been my principal inducement to relinquish the pleasure, the hope that I may in the meantime obtain a fresh supply of strength, and at length come back to you better able to exert myself for your advantage.

"For, believe me, my dear girls, I have your good sincerely at heart; I have no stronger wish than that you may have so far benefited by my teaching as to lead henceforth a happier, a higher, a more useful life. Will you forgive me if I ask your attention for a few minutes to a last short lesson, one which I hope will not be too hard for you to understand, which I hope you will endeavour to take to heart and think over long after I have ceased to speak to you. Though, as I have said, it is my firm hope that I may before long come back again and once more give lessons here, yet I fear it would be too much to hope that I should still have all of you for my pupils. In the interval, short as it may be, many of you will have left your old homes, changed your employments, be scattered in many different directions upon the stern work of life. For many of you are already no strangers to the sternest work, young as you are; and I should like to give you a little advice which may perhaps render your hardships lighter to bear, and encourage you to endure all suffering with stronger and more hopeful hearts.

"Wherever you may be, then, whatever your work, however mean or ill-paid it may appear to you, never forget two things: first, to do the work as well as it lies in your power to do it; then, to aim at preparing yourself for something better. By the first, you all know very well what I mean; the second is not as difficult to carry out as you may think. An honest, brave-hearted girl has always the means of improving herself, if she will. Those of you who have only just made a beginning in learning to read and write, continue to persevere in what leisure moments you can find. If you cannot get on by your own exertions alone, you will always, I am convinced, find somebody able and willing to give you a little assistance. You that are more advanced will find it still easier to continue your work of self-improvement. But under no circumstance allow yourselves to lose courage. Some of you may say to yourselves, 'Oh, what is the good of my trying to better myself? I shall never have a chance of showing what I know, and where will be the good?' I earnestly beg of you never to admit such a thought! In the first place it will not be a true thought; believe me that very few people set themselves to the task of seriously bettering their minds without in consequence, sooner or later, greatly benefiting their condition in the world. And in the second place, even supposing that you should be so unhappy as to be utterly neglected, and still have to toil in a mean position, when you feel capable of better things; even under such unhappy circumstances there is a thought which, if you can try to get it firmly into your minds, will never cease to afford you consolation. It is this. No one can work hard for her own improvement without at the same time doing good to every one with whom she comes in contact, and to the whole world in general. I tell you with very great seriousness that every one of you who now listen to me has the power, if she choose to exert it, to make this world of ours better for her striving. There is hardly an evil from which we daily suffer which has not ignorance for its cause. If you strive to rise out of your ignorance, you will see every day more and more clearly how wise it is to be honest, and virtuous, and good; how dreadfully foolish it is to be otherwise. You will see that your own happiness lies within your reach, if you are willing to take the trouble to climb to it. If I have succeeded in making one of you more thoughtful by my lessons, I shall myself be the happier for it all my life; and my parting request, nay, my prayer, to you is, that you will never forget these last words from your teacher, that for her sake, for your own sake, for the sake of the whole suffering world, you will endeavour to lead pure, patient, hopeful lives!"

Several of the girls sobbed as Helen ceased, and, herself very much overcome, resumed her seat. All showed signs of having been strongly impressed. After a brief pause Mr. Heatherley stood up and, in a few well-chosen words, addressed the pupils. After speaking in the highest terms of Helen's exertions, and thanking her earnestly for all the work she had done, he went on to say that he should do his utmost to find some lady who would be willing to continue the classes. Then he dismissed them all with a few kind wishes and exhortations to them to remember what had been said. Each one of the girls as she went out passed by the teacher's desk and curtseyed, and Helen gave her hand to all. She said no more than a single good-bye, lest she should appear to favour some above the others, but the expression of her eyes indicated those with whom she had been especially pleased.

For a little more than a month Helen continued to live at Holly Cottage, but towards the end of September her physician one day definitely declared that he could not allow her to pass October in England, so the sooner she thought of making her arrangements for departure the better. Helen assented, though with grievous regrets. She could not hesitate as to the choice of her destination; the many tender and sad associations from her early years pointed at once to Mentone. Indeed the grief with which she resolved to relinquish her tasks and leave England was, in the end, somewhat mitigated by the prospect of once more seeing her dearly-remembered southern home. It was ultimately decided that Lucy Venning should accompany her. Lucy's gentle companionship had become indispensable to her.

It was a fine autumn evening, the last which she spent in England. Helen had had no definite premonition of a visitor to-night, but she knew well that one would arrive. And about seven o'clock the door-bell rang, a well-known voice was heard enquiring for Miss Norman, and then Mr. Heatherley entered the room.

"I expected you," said Helen, with a quiet smile, as they took seats. They were alone, for Mrs. Cumberbatch and Lucy were both out.

"This evening? Didn't you rather expect me in the morning?"

"No. I knew you liked to say all you have to say without having the effect of it injured by undue hurry."

There was silence for a moment.

"Are all your arrangements made?" then asked the clergyman.

"All. Mr. Gresham meets us at Dieppe, and accompanies us straight to our journey's end."

"Would it not have been more agreeable if Mr. Gresham had come as far as London?"

"Perhaps it would have spared us a little trouble; but Lucy and I must pluck up our courage. You know I am an old traveller."

She laughed slightly, and there was a short silence, broken at length by a succession of short, tight coughs from Helen. The clergyman looked at her with a pained countenance.

"No better?" he asked, in a low voice.

She shook her head. Mr. Heatherley bent forward and took her hand in his own.

"We are about to say farewell to each other, Miss Norman," he began, in a rather solemn tone, "and which of us can foresee what the next few months may bring about? You will forgive me if I speak seriously to you for a few minutes? You will consider that I speak in my character of clergyman, a privileged one?"

Helen drooped her eyes, and uttered a low "Yes."

"During the whole time of our acquaintanceship," continued the other, "I have studiously complied with your request, and have never spoken to you earnestly on those matters nearest my heart. I am not sure that I have acted rightly; my conscience reproaches me somewhat. Tell me, Miss Norman, in the spirit in which I ask -- do you still hold the same opinions with regard to religious matters as formerly?"

"The same, Mr. Heatherley."

"In reflecting upon your position, amid such thoughts as I well know your state of health must often have brought into your mind, can you sincerely assure me that no longing for the comforts of Christ and His gospel has ever occupied your heart? Have you never even felt in your weakness the ardent longing to repose upon the succour of an almighty and all-merciful God?"

"It would be untrue," returned Helen, "to say that I have never been so extremely impressed by the sense of my weakness as to long for the support of some stronger being. But to the consolations which religion offer I cannot say that I have ever been induced to turn my thoughts. My reason has always forbidden it."

"You have no hopes of a future life; no hopes of anything beyond this world of misery?"

"None. I do not deny that there may be such; but my reason is unable to conceive of it."

There was a long silence, broken by a low exclamation from Mr. Heatherley.

"I pity you; from my soul I pity you!"

"But not condemn?" asked Helen, regarding the other with a serious smile.

"No, not condemn," returned the clergyman. "Did I not know your perfect truthfulness and loftiness of mind, Miss Norman, I should boldly say that I did not believe you; for hitherto I have scarcely believed in the possibility of such a noble life devoid of the knowledge of God. All I can do is to bow my head in humility, and say that the Almighty has ways which are not our ways, thoughts not our thoughts."

"Yet do not cease to pity me, Mr. Heatherley," returned Helen, "for I am greatly worthy of your pity. Just as I am outgrowing the weakness of youth -- just as my mind is becoming maturer, my experience widening, my power of usefulness expanding, just as I raise the cup to drink deeply of the sweet wine of life -- the dark, shadowy hand is preparing to dash it from my lips. Do not think that I deceive myself as to my fate; I read it but too well. Let your thought of me be always one of pity. Oh, how much would I have done if I had had time! But the day proves too short, the sunlight fades, and the night cometh wherein no man can work."





CHAPTER XVI

THE END

In a few days it will be Christmas, the Christmas of the year 1872. The time is about mid-day, and the scene -- not the streets of London, but the banks of the River Mersey, amid all the bustle and confusion of the Liverpool docks. The clocks, at all events, tell us that it is midday, but, judging from surrounding appearances, it might rather be supposed to be midnight. For everything is wrapped in the densest of fogs, a thick, rolling, dark-brown mass of stifling vapour, scarcely allowing one to see as far as the hand will stretch, and making the ear the only possible guide to a knowledge of what is going on around one. And the ear is not left without occupation. Every imaginable cry of the human voice, incessant shrill whistles from steamboats near and far, the dull roar of vehicles landwards, the steady, endless tramping of feet upon the wooden landing-place, the occasional crash or thud of heavy baggage from the shoulders of porters, all these and a hundred other indescribable and unrecognisable noises combine to make, as it were, a muffled Babel. And hark! a new sound, close at hand, suddenly rises above all the others, forcing attention to itself alone. It is the loud and long clanging of a bell, a clanging impatient and almost fierce. It sounds from the deck of the boat which is waiting to carry passengers out to the good ship "Parthia," Cunard steamer, of one knows not how many thousand tons burden, now lying two or three miles down the stream in the midst of the dense fog, whence it will in a few hours be working its way into the purer air of the Atlantic.

The bell is now ringing for the second time, and will give but one more warning before the boat starts. Despite the fearful day, a considerable number of passengers have already collected in the little saloon, where they sit in the midst of piles of miscellaneous luggage, most of them very silent and a few looking already somewhat pale and dismayed. There are women among them, and one or two children, driven across the ocean at this time of the year by Heaven knows what strange whim or necessity; but the passengers for the most part have the air of men of business, individuals who sit reading their letters or their newspapers with the most unconcerned air by the light of the swinging oil-lamps. One baby there is amid the company, which lifts up its shrill little voice in emulation of the clanging bell, and at moments decidedly succeeds in making the more noise of the two, at all events to the ears of those in the saloon.

As the bell at length became silent a new comer stepped on board, a tall young man, wrapped up in a great overcoat, carrying in one hand a small portmanteau, in the other a carpet-bag. On entering the saloon he looked round in the semi-darkness with a somewhat shy air, and, after a moment's hesitation, seated himself in a vacant corner; then, when he had surveyed once or twice the faces of those who were to be his fellow passengers, by degrees sank into abstractedness. Those who had the curiosity to inspect his face closely could see that it was rather handsome in outline, but severely pale and careworn in expression. He appeared nervous, too, for at every unexpected sound he started slightly and for a moment his face wore a pained expression. He had put the portmanteau and carpet bag at his feet. The former alone bore a direction, in handwriting, which ran thus: -- "A. Golding, Passenger to New York."

After a delay which appeared to be endless to those waiting in the saloon, the loud bell clanged for the last time, and the boat moved off into the darkness. Half-an-hour's careful voyaging brought it beneath the shadow of an immense hull, in the side of which appeared a large square of reddish light, through which the passengers forthwith made their way on to the body of the "Parthia." Arthur Golding -- for the young man described is no other than our old acquaintance -- was one oft he last to go on board. After a long straying about pitch-dark and narrow passages, after ascending and descending innumerable almost perpendicular stairs, after endless collisions with wanderers like himself, after repeated questionings, to which unintelligible answers were returned, he at length found himself at the door of his own state-room where he was glad enough to throw down his burdens and rest for a few minutes. The state-room had berths for two, one on the top of the other, and Arthur saw that the top one was already occupied, at all events someone had deposited his luggage there in sign of taking possession. Having reconnoitred the locality as well. as he was able, he once more made his way through the labyrinth of passages and staircases up on to the deck. In half an hour the great ship suddenly vibrated to the motion of her machinery, the sluggish river at the stern was all at once lashed into angry wave and foam by the revolution of the screw, and the "Parthia" had begun her voyage.

As the inclemency of the weather rendered it impossible to remain on deck, and the company in the saloon offering few if any attractions, Arthur very early retired to his berth. He had no desire to sleep, but a great desire to be once more alone in order to reflect upon the past and speculate as to the future. Let us see what subject for thought the past afforded him.

On the evening when the last conversation between Carrie and her temptress took place, Arthur returned home about nine o'clock. All day he had suffered from depression even greater than usual, and for hours after it had become dark he wandered aimlessly about the streets, sunk in miserable reflections upon his wasted life. Several times he crossed the river, and on each occasion paused for many minutes to look down into the black depths, made blacker by the reflection here and there of the lights upon the banks. He remembered how near he had once been to plunging himself and his sufferings for ever beneath that gloomy surface, and he even now did his best to re-summon the state of mind in which he had been capable of such a resolution. How gladly would he long since have sought the rest which the river always offers to the despairing, had it not been for that ever-present image whose smile forbade more strongly than the sternest words such an abandonment of duty. Moreover, it seemed as if out of the very extremity of his misery was arising an increased love of existence, a passionate desire for active exertion in an entirely new sphere, a keener appreciation of the joys which life could afford to those in happier circumstances. Oh, how weary, weary, intolerably weary did he feel of the life he had led for so many months, this life in which no day passed without bringing the acutest agonies, which opened up no vistas of the future where the light of Hope burned ever so dimly or ever so remote, but was closely hemmed around by a blackness of woe into which the eye dared not endeavour to penetrate! Before, when desperation had driven him to the fixed idea of suicide, it had been in consequence of self-degradation, because he had felt that every spark of noble aspiration had been extinguished in his soul, because it was to himself that he owed his wretchedness, the utter destruction of hope and energy. But now it was different. He had set before himself a lofty ideal, and had conscientiously done his best to live up to it. That he had failed in attaining the hoped for end was not, could not be considered, his own fault. His worst crime had been to submit to almost irresistible despondency; he had not now soiled the purity of his purpose by yielding to any ignoble passion. To live thus amid the circumstances Fate had gathered round him he considered, and rightly, as a self-conquest, a step upwards in the scale of being. Why could he not be free to expand his nature to the uttermost, to develop all his faculties to that rich fulness of which he felt they were capable? As he thought of this, his depression threw off its passive character and became active anger. By what law, human or divine, was he compelled to sacrifice his life thus, without even the recompense of conferring a benefit upon a fellow creature? He knew that his efforts to reform Carrie were utterly useless, would for ever remain so. Was it incumbent upon him, knowing this, to add his own ruin to the inevitable ruin of her whom the world called his wife? Could even Helen Norman, when made to understand the circumstances, still bid him persevere in his desperate course? And, if she could, would it not be mere narrow-minded worship of conventionality in her, would it not satisfactorily prove that her advice had never been worthy of acceptance? A thrill of self-reproach ran through him as his bitter indignation thus forced him to canvass unworthy suspicions regarding her who was his good angel; but still the hard facts of the case remained, and reason would not refrain from drawing her conclusions. In this moment Arthur loved Helen as sincerely as he had ever done, but there was an ideal which unfortunately urged its claims to even greater devotion, and that ideal was Liberty. He was so young, he had means at his disposal so all-sufficing, he shuddered so at the thought of death, and yearned with such an unutterable yearning for the pleasures of existence. Leaning over the parapets of London Bridge and communing thus with himself, of a sudden he smote the damp stone violently with his clenched fist, and then turned homewards.

As I have said, he reached home about nine o'clock. It did not at all surprise him to find the rooms in disorder and Carrie out; these were circumstances to which he had grown only too well accustomed. As it was severely cold, his first employment was to light a fire. This done, he walked about the room ceaselessly for more than an hour, at times covering his face with his hands, now making wild gestures as if in the acutest agony, now even uttering low cries, With the exception of the fire he had kindled no light, and as the flame in the grate by degrees sank, giving way to a red glow, he was in almost total darkness.

About midnight a staggering footstep on the stairs told him of his wife's approach. In haste he lit a candle, and waited for her appearance. Carrie was in a mood of maudlin affection to-night, and, as she reeled into the room, threw her arms round Arthur's neck. With a gesture of disgust and loathing he forced her away from him. He did not speak a word, knowing that at such times it was useless; but his action had changed the current of the girl's humour, and she at once broke out into the coarsest reviling and abuse. For more than an hour he had to submit to this torture, which ceased only when exhaustion obtained the ascendancy over passion, and Carrie sank into beast-like stupor, it could not be called sleep, upon the nearest chair. With difficulty Arthur removed her into the other room and laid her upon the bed, she all the while struggling feebly in half consciousness. There she once more became silent and still.

He knew from experience that her unconsciousness would last probably for many hours, and for once he welcomed the prospect; for this latest trial had suddenly ripened in him the resolution around which his mind had been all day wavering. Away all hopes and fears in which this degraded creature had a part! Away all hesitation! Away even every thought of that other one whose power had always been great! Away everything before the might of the animal instinct of self-preservation!

In feverish haste he drew his largest trunk into the middle of the room, and commenced to pack it with all that he most valued. No need to do it so silently; if the house had fallen above her head Carrie would have perished in her unconsciousness. By half-past one the packing was completed. Most of his clothing he had left; he only cared to take articles such as books and drawings which had an intrinsic value for him. Next he took down his half-finished picture of Portia's Pleading from the easel where it had stood so long untouched, and carefully enveloped it in sheets of brown paper, tying up the whole into a portable parcel. Then he sat down and wrote several letters, most of them of a business nature. The one he wrote last he did not, however, put in an envelope like the rest, but, stepping lightly into the bedroom, pinned it in a prominent position upon the blind, immediately above the looking-glass. This letter was brief, and ran thus:

"Dear Carrie,
"I can bear this life no longer and think it better for both that we should part. I am taking with me everything that I care to keep. The rest I leave for you. That you may not want for money to go where you think fit, I have put two sovereigns in your purse on the dressing-table; and, lest you should come to want in the future I shall make arrangements that you may receive one pound a week -- as long as I am able to pay it. This you will have each week, by calling upon Mr. Venning, whose address is ----. He will not pay the money to anyone but yourself. I trust you may yet see the miserable folly of your life and carry out some of those good resolves you have so often made in vain. Good-bye.

"Arthur."

	When he had completed these tasks it was nearly half-past two. He then made some slight alterations in his toilet, put in his pocket all the loose cash he had in the house, together with his valuable papers, and forthwith softly descended the stairs and left the house. He was only absent some five minutes, returning in a cab. He entered the house with the cabman, led the way up to his room, and both together carried down the packed trunk and picture, doing all with the utmost quietness. It was not, however, done so quietly but the landlady, who slept on the ground floor, overheard what was going on. On hearing her door open, Arthur went and exchanged a few words with her, informing her that he had suddenly been called away on a journey; and, as he was irreproachable in the payment of his rent, the good woman made no further comment. By three o'clock Arthur was driving away in the cab. He had not even returned upstairs to take a last glance at Carrie.

He drove as far as Charing Cross, and here stopped at a hotel which kept open its hospitable doors all night. Obtaining a bedroom, he did his best to snatch a few hours sleep, but with poor success. He succeeded however, in killing the hours up to half-past seven o'clock, when he partook of a slight breakfast, and immediately set forth on foot. His aim was Mr. Venning's house, which he reached just as that worthy man was sitting down to his breakfast. Without the least circumlocution Arthur told him all that had happened, laid before him frankly and honestly the reasons for his conduct, then went on to show the plans he had formed for Carrie's welfare and to ask him whether he would be willing to act as trustee in the matter. Mr. Venning, as we have seen, was a sincerely religious, but by no means a narrow-minded man. He had always entertained great personal friendship for Arthur, and had sadly deplored the misery of the latter's fate when first it was made known to him. Now, when so startling a drama was suddenly unrolled before his eyes, and he was called upon to take an active part in it, for a time he hesitated. But it was only for a time. Arthur's words, his looks, carried absolute conviction. There was no doubting the truth of all he said, and at length Mr. Venning confessed that his action, though grievous, might still be necessary, even wise.

"But you are placing great confidence in me," he said, when somewhat reluctantly yielding. "How can you be sure that the trust will always be properly carried out?"

"I know quite well, Mr. Venning," replied Arthur, "that you are a man of principle. Moreover, you are a religious man, and religion with you is more than a mere profession. It operates within your heart before it finds utterance upon your lips."

"And yet, Mr. Golding," pursued the old man, "I think you hold my religion in but light esteem."

"Only when it is a meaningless babble in the mouth of fools," replied Arthur. "Every real life-guide, whatever it calls itself, my conscience compels me to respect. How I wish that I had had the strength to conceive and act up to a religion of my own!"

"But what are your plans? Where are you going?"

"I am sorry to say that I can answer neither question. I think it likely that I shall leave England, but in any case you shall always have my address."

The old man sighed as he looked into Arthur's fine face, which bore such fearful marks of suffering.

"Well, Mr. Golding," he said, "you are in the hands of God, whether you acknowledge His guidance or not. I hope -- I trust -- I am doing nothing wrong in giving my consent to these plans. But I fear you would not heed me whatever advice I gave."

"Forgive me," replied Arthur; "I could not act otherwise than I am doing. A thousand thanks for your great kindness. But there is yet one more task. I have a picture of my own painting which I desire to be given to Miss Norman. I suppose she still lives at the old address."

"No, no," returned Mr. Venning, shaking his head sadly.

"No? Where has she gone?"

"She left England for the south more than a month ago. Lucy is with her."

"But why?" asked Arthur, holding in his breath.

"Her failing health made it impossible for her to stay in England through the winter. I saw her just before she went, and she had worn away to a mere shadow. She told me, in the quietest tone imaginable, that her father had been consumptive, and that she felt there was no chance for her."

The old man spoke in a tone of the deepest sadness, sighing as he ended.

"But you hear from them -- from Miss Venning?" asked Arthur, when able to speak.

"Frequently, and there is very little encouragement in the letters, I am sorry to say."

Arthur turned away and walked once up and down the room.

"Then I must send the picture to her myself," he said, at length, the pallor of his face showing what a blow the intelligence had been to him. "Mr. Venning, will you promise me that you will always preserve absolute silence with regard to myself? Promise that you will never give anyone the least information with regard to me, except, perhaps) that I called and obtained from you Miss Norman's address? I am sure you will promise that."

"I will," said Mr. Venning, in his quiet but resolved tone, which always meant much. He then gave Arthur the desired address, and they took leave of each other. A few hours after, Arthur had despatched his picture on its journey to Helen -- his last offering. He sent no word with it, but let it speak for itself. Who knows, he thought, whether she will ever see it?

For three days he continued to reside at the hotel, during which time he transacted all business matters connected with the disposition of his money. Five hundred pounds he realised at once for his own necessities. That in future he should be obliged to live upon his capital did not trouble him. He desired nothing better henceforth than to earn his own living once more by strenuous exertions. The interval between this and the day on which we have seen him embarking at Liverpool -- a space of about a fortnight -- was spent in the consideration and rejection of endless plans. He had not continued to live in London, for to remain still was torture to him. It was in Manchester that he at length decided upon the course to pursue. He would go to the New World, not to its civilised parts, but out into the extreme West, where in arduous struggles with the powers of Nature he might forget all his past existence and -- he could conceive it possible -- in time lead a happy life. His money would purchase land for him and secure him the services of labourers. His heart throbbed at the prospect. At once he wrote and secured his passage in the next Cunarder that left Liverpool. Upon his precise destination he did not endeavour to decide. There would be better opportunity of doing that when he reached America.

The voyage proved long and stormy, yet from the first morning of his going up on deck to look out on to the Atlantic to the coming to anchor in the docks at New York, Arthur's body and soul were pervaded with exuberance of health such as he had never enjoyed. When he lay in his berth at night, listening to the lash and thunder of the waves against the sides of the vessel; to the cracking and straining of the masts and cordage, to the shrill whistle upon deck, now and then making itself heard above the duller noises, his heart was filled with a wild wish that the winds might sweep yet more fiercely upon the heaving water, that the ocean might swell up to mountainous waves, such deep delight did he experience in the midst of the grand new scene. Throughout the day, no stress of weather could suffice to keep him below. It was his chief pleasure to sit in the stern, in the shelter of the wheel-house, from whence he could overlook the whole length of the ship as it plunged down the sides of the huge water-gulfs. How little she looked, for all her thousands of tons burden, and what a mere mite she would have made in the gullet of the insatiable deep! Then, to turn and look down into the frothy hell beneath the stern; to watch for minutes the fierce whirlpool where the untiring screw was struggling amid a thousand conflicting currents, and then to feel the vessel rising upwards, upwards, till at length a mountain of deep green water surged from beneath her, showing a surface smooth and solid-looking as ice, threatening the very sky in its upward striving. Day after day the same spectacle lay before his eye from morning to night, and yet he never wearied of watching it. Though towards evening the wave-splashed deck became too slippery to stand upon, though the ropes were stiff with ice, though the wind cut through the darkening air with the swift keenness of steel, yet not till he was obliged would Arthur descend to the saloon, the picture was too engrossing in its majesty. He almost believed that the mind expanded in the mere act of watching; he felt capable of greater thoughts than formerly; the thought of his security in the midst of such terrors gave him a loftier and truer conception of human powers than he had yet attained to.

* * * * * * * * * *

A year passes, and once more we are within a few days of Christmas. Arthur Golding is sitting to-night in a little room which he has inhabited for more than a month, a longer period than he has rested in any place hitherto since he arrived in America. Though there is no cheerful English fire to impart comfort to the room, yet there is no absence of warmth, for an abundant supply of hot air issues from the "register" in one corner. Outside everything is covered with deep snow, and the night is wonderfully clear and still, the deep blue sky sprinkled with stars of a brilliancy never beheld in our misty clime. Not a breath of wind is stirring, and occasional crunching of feet on the hard snow beneath the window would be the only sound, were it not for a heavy, deep-noted, unceasing roar which, though perfectly audible, forces itself so little upon the ear that it can be easily forgotten amid the else perfect silence of the night. Arthur does not notice it at all, for it has been in his ears ever since he took up his abode here, sometimes much more distinct, sometimes scarcely perceptible. If you asked him for an explanation of it, he would tell you that not quite ten minutes' walk from his door would bring you to the edge of the cataract of Niagara.

Arthur's face is that of a middle-aged man whose life has been one of constant care, for all that he is some months yet from the completion of his twenty-third year. Since his arrival in the New World his life has been that of a wanderer. At first he travelled for pleasure, passing in hot haste from end to end of the Continent, now wandering over the endless prairies, now exploring with ceaseless delight the marvels of California, at one time basking amid the plantations of Carolina, and shortly after revelling in the delicious sunshine of New England. But during the last three months he has been the prey of ever-growing wretchedness, beginning in mere weariness at this unsettled life, and passing at length into strong disgust at his own inactivity, coupled with moments of bitter regret at having ever quitted England. For a year he had not know what it was to hear the voice of a friend. Naturally retiring in his disposition, he seldom, if ever, addressed a stranger. Such of the Americans as he had had the opportunity of seeing more closely he could not persuade himself to like. He had nothing in common with them; their taste seemed to him hopelessly vulgar. With society which would have been in harmony with his nature he had no means of mixing. The agricultural schemes which had been so ardently conceived before he left England, he had never even attempted to carry out; in his travelling he had seen quite enough to show him that he could not endure the life. That perpetual indecision, that lack of a firm and independent energy which had been the great evil of his life, now came back upon him more strongly than ever, nourished by his unsettled state. A thousand times he said to himself that it was necessary he should seek some fixed position, that he should endeavour to assume a place in the world's work, if for no other reason, at least for the sake of his future prospects. But it was this future which he could not bear to contemplate. To art alone had he ever devoted any steady application, but for art he had just now lost his taste, without acquiring a taste for any other work. His was a wrecked and ruined nature, hopelessly drifting about on the currents of circumstance, blown hither and thither by fitful blasts of passion and remorse. How often did he curse him self for being so reckless, for removing himself so far from all who knew him, when a hundred wiser and more hopeful courses might have revealed themselves to his mind. He had imagined that he wanted freedom; choked beneath the nightmare of his intolerable life he had thought that free air and unrestricted liberty to wander about the world was all that he needed. For the moment he had forgotten the sincerest yearnings of his heart, those depths of genuine and life-long feeling which, like the depths of the ocean, would remain calm and undisturbed, however the surface might be troubled. Satiated with the freedom he had cried for, he now saw that it had been gained at the loss of that honour which he had pledged to her who truly loved him. He saw that in casting himself loose from all worldly bonds, as he had done, he had been guilty of a heedlessness of others which had wrought its inevitable vengeance upon his own life. He had acted as though he was his own master; whereas, even if his wife had forfeited all claims upon him, there remained another who had an indefeasible right to control his recklessness, the right of pure affection guided by a lofty mind. Living amid the rigour of winter, friendless, companionless, objectless, he seemed to hear night and day in the roar of the great cataract a ceaseless assertion that man is for ever dependent upon his fellows, that it is at his peril he breaks all the bonds of a lifetime, in the presumptuous belief that they are a mere hindrance to his future existence. The never-ending roar of waters bade him look back upon his life and see how every purpose had been frustrated; or, if he yet ventured to raise an eye towards the future, murmured sternly, "Too late! Too late!"

Only once or twice during the year had he heard from Mr. Venning, his constant movements having doubtless caused many letters to go astray. This last he had received at Chicago, now nearly three months ago; and it informed him that Carrie still came to take her money, though at very irregular intervals. Arthur had been bitterly disappointed that it contained no mention of Helen Norman. In his few and brief communications, he had always wished, though never dared, to ask news of her. He felt sure that in the event of any. thing decided occurring, Mr. Venning would not fail to acquaint him with it. Immediately upon his arrival at Niagara, he had written to London, this time begging distinctly for news concerning Helen, saying that he would remain where he was for at least six weeks, in order to receive a reply before deciding upon his future course.

He was sitting alone this evening, sunk in the vague abstractedness which had for some time supplied the place of rational thought with him, when he was disturbed by the entrance of a servant, who held in her hand a letter and a newspaper, both showing English stamps. Arthur took them, and first of all tore open the letter in eager haste. It was from Mr. Venning, written immediately on receipt of Arthur's last. It stated that Carrie had, for more than a month, ceased to apply for her money, when the writer, driven by anxiety to make enquiries, had discovered that she had been for several weeks in a hospital, suffering from a malady which was the consequence of her dissipated life, and which left her but the faintest hope of recovery. He desired to know what Arthur's wishes were under these circumstances, and begged that a reply might be sent as quickly as possible. This was the only matter which the letter contained.

Arthur's first thought was one of compassion for the miserable girl, but this was almost immediately expelled from his mind by the reflection that, in all probability, Carrie was already dead. If so -- was he not free? Could he not return from his exile, and ----? He dared not think out the thought to the end. Was it possible that Fate, with sweet irony, was now bringing about such a termination of his sorrows? Arthur opened the letter once more and ran quickly through it. Certainly Mr. Venning wrote as if assured of the result -- but then there was no mention in his letter of Helen, and had he not been explicitly desired to send news of her? Suffering a moment of the cruellest indecision, Arthur suddenly remembered that the newspaper still remained unopened. Pooh! what did he care for a newspaper? What was the world's intelligence to him, whose world was contained in the compass of a woman's heart? Yet why should his friend send it him? He had never done so before. Arthur reflected, and suddenly the cold sweat broke out upon his forehead as a horrible dread possessed itself of his mind. Certainly this paper must contain an answer to the most pressing part of his letter; Mr. Venning could never have neglected that. He tore off the wrapper, and, clenching his teeth firmly together, as if to keep down his emotions, slowly opened the paper upon the table, and cut the pages with a knife. It was the Times, and bore a date early in December. Forcing his eyes to do their office, which they would fain have refused to, he glanced rapidly up and down the columns for some mark which should have been put to guide him. One column he steadfastly refused to look at, though his good sense told him that only there could he hope to see any mention of Helen. Yet to this column he was obliged to come at last. He looked through the list of marriages -- no, she was not there. He looked at the list of deaths, and at length read this -- "On the 20th of November, at Mentone, Helen, daughter of the Rev. Edward Norman (deceased), in her twenty-second year." That was all.

Some hours after, when it was close upon midnight, Arthur issued from the house, bearing in his hand a letter, which he seemed to have come out to post. This done, however, he did not return, but, though he wore only his light in-door clothing, very little adapted for a night-walk in the temperature which now prevailed, he set off at a sharp pace over the crunching snow. The deep roar of the falls was in his ears, and it guided his footsteps. Within ten minutes he had come to the riverside, and the whole glorious panorama lay unrolled before him.

A full moon reigned in the heavens, making it almost as light as day, though tinging everything with her own peculiar silvery hue. Just on the edge of the precipice, where the gathered waters took their fearful plunge, hung a second full orb, a perfect reflection of that above, the clear, luminous circle seeming scarcely disturbed by a wrinkle on the surface, the hue of which was a pale emerald. From the abyss into which the torrent disappeared, rose vast columns of spray, transparent, glistening with a marvellous brilliancy, fading at length into the air like breath. Along either shore of the river, and on the dark barrier which Goat Island interposes between the American and Horse-shoe Falls, frost had built all manner of fantastic shapes, seizing upon the feebler jets of water which part from the main mass, and holding them suspended half way down the precipice as gigantic icicles; freezing the spray as it fell, layer upon layer, till huge blocks had been formed; daring even to encroach upon the very edge of the majestic cataract, and skim it with weird bridges, firm as adamant. And over all this was spread a thick coat of snow, itself frozen into a thousand strange forms, making the eye ache to behold its dazzling purity. In contrast to the white banks, the river, as it issued from the spray-hidden depths at the foot of the falls, and once more went on its accustomed way, seemed a wonderful, deep green, flecked here and there with patches and long streaks of slowly-moving foam, not less white than the snow itself. How marvellously still was the deep-green water, all but motionless, as though it were resting after its wild leap. Only by intently watching one of the foam-streaks could the direction of its flow be ascertained. And from the midst of all this dread magnificence spoke the solemn voice, not harshly loud, not so overpowering as to render other noises mute, but in subdued, melodious thunder, as though proclaiming with calm, passionless decision, the immutable power of destiny.

With hands clasped behind him, Arthur stood for a long time gazing at the glorious scene. Moonlight is always saddening, and the gleam of the cold silvery beams reflected from the vast watery mirror filled his soul with an infinite passion of woe. In thought he reviewed his whole life. He strove with memory to gain back the full taste of his childish sufferings from those dim, far-off days when his father still lived -- those sufferings, how light they now seemed, viewed amid the consciousness of present despair -- nay, he felt that those days must in reality have been days of happiness, could he but have known it. All the dim forms of those he had known and loved best passed before his eyes, all, all gone for ever. Mr. Tollady, the guardian of his youth, the model of heroic constancy set up before him for his guidance in life -- long since dead. How clearly he now saw that the old man's death had been the beginning of his misery, though at the time he had believed it to be the commencement of his true life. And she who, through good and evil, had never in reality ceased to be his ideal -- she who had been noble and worthy effort personified whom he had always worshipped in the innermost of his heart, however with his lips he had declared his allegiance to false gods, she whose lofty counsel might even at the last have saved him, had he possessed the energy to obey her -- Helen Norman was gone. And she being gone, what remained? In her person the ideal of his life had perished, all that he had ever lived for had ceased to exist; he found himself straying amid the billows of life like a wrecked and manless ship upon an ebbing sea. Why should he live? Why had he ever lived? In vain he surveyed his life for the traces of any positive result, of any real good accomplished, any real end gained -- he could find none. Failure was written upon it, written irrevocably. Why should he live?

Moving as though mechanically, whilst his countenance still showed him to be sunk in thought, he drew nearer to the edge of the cliffs, and began to descend them by the path which leads to the foot of the Falls. His eyes were fixed upon the cataract, and never wandered from it. In the bright moonlight he could even watch individual masses of foam as they appeared on the summit of the Fall, and, slowly, slowly, curved over and were lost for ever. How slowly they seemed to pass, as though being reluctantly dragged downwards and out of sight. He watched these, and, as he watched, still descended the path and drew nearer to the vast columns of spray, till at length he felt his face moistened by their breath. So long and so fixedly had he gazed, that the plunging water had begun to exercise a terrible fascination over him; involuntarily he drew nearer and nearer. The deep, musical voice from out of the hidden depths seemed to call to him irresistibly, and he followed. A wild and mad longing to probe the dread mysteries veiled beneath that curtain of ever-rising spray took despotic hold upon him; with a delicious joy he contemplated a struggle with the roaring whirlpools, with a fierce longing yearned to experience their unimaginable horrors. Now he was at the lowest end of the path. He stood upon a vast mass of mingled ice and snow, and his garments were drenched with the rising vapour. Yet one step, and he gained the elevation of a huge shapeless block which seemed to promise him a view straight down into the depths. But still the mists gathered thick beneath him, and from out of it called to him the voice of the whirlpool, now so loud within his ears that at length it silenced thought. For a moment his blood boiled, his pulses leaped, his brain was on fire with the fierce joy of madness; in the next he shrieked in a voice which overcame that of the Falls, "Helen! Helen!" and plunged into the abyss.


PART ONE (CHAPTERS I-VIII)


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