The Fallen Leaves, by Wilkie Collins

Chapter 4

Returning to his hotel, he found three letters waiting for him on the sitting-room table.

The first letter that he opened was from his landlord, and contained his bill for the past week. As he looked at the sum total, Amelius presented to perfection the aspect of a serious young man. He took pen, ink, and paper, and made some elaborate calculations. Money that he had too generously lent, or too freely given away, appeared in his statement of expenses, as well as money that he had spent on himself. The result may be plainly stated in his own words: “Goodbye to the hotel; I must go into lodgings.”

Having arrived at this wise decision, he opened the second letter. It proved to be written by the lawyers who had already communicated with him at Tadmor, on the subject of his inheritance.

“DEAR SIR,

“The enclosed, insufficiently addressed as you will perceive, only reached us this day. We beg to remain, etc.”

Amelius opened the letter enclosed, and turned to the signature for information. The name instantly took him back to the Community: the writer was Mellicent.

Her letter began abruptly, in these terms:

“Do you remember what I said to you when we parted at Tadmor? I said, ‘Be comforted, Amelius, the end is not yet.’ And I said again, ‘You will come back to me.’

“I remind you of this, my friend — directing to your lawyers, whose names I remember when their letter to you was publicly read in the Common Room. Once or twice a year I shall continue to remind you of those parting words of mine: there will be a time perhaps when you will thank me for doing so.

“In the mean while, light your pipe with my letters; my letters don’t matter. If I can comfort you, and reconcile you to your life — years hence, when you, too, my Amelius, may be one of the Fallen Leaves like me — then I shall not have lived and suffered in vain; my last days on earth will be the happiest days that I have ever seen.

“Be pleased not to answer these lines, or any other written words of mine that may follow, so long as you are prosperous and happy. With that part of your life I have nothing to do. You will find friends wherever you go — among the women especially. Your generous nature shows itself frankly in your face; your manly gentleness and sweetness speak in every tone of your voice; we poor women feel drawn towards you by an attraction which we are not able to resist. Have you fallen in love already with some beautiful English girl? Oh, be careful and prudent! Be sure, before you set your heart on her, that she is worthy of you! So many women are cruel and deceitful. Some of them will make you believe you have won their love, when you have only flattered their vanity; and some are poor weak creatures whose minds are set on their own interests, and who may let bad advisers guide them, when you are not by. For your own sake, take care!

“I am living with my sister, at New York. The days and weeks glide by me quietly; you are in my thoughts and my prayers; I have nothing to complain of; I wait and hope. When the time of my banishment from the Community has expired, I shall go back to Tadmor; and there you will find me, Amelius, the first to welcome you when your spirits are sinking under the burden of life, and your heart turns again to the friends of your early days.

“Goodbye, my dear — goodbye!”

Amelius laid the letter aside, touched and saddened by the artless devotion to him which it expressed. He was conscious also of a feeling of uneasy surprise, when he read the lines which referred to his possible entanglement with some beautiful English girl. Here, with widely different motives, was Mrs. Farnaby’s warning repeated, by a stranger writing from another quarter of the globe! It was an odd coincidence, to say the least of it. After thinking for a while, he turned abruptly to the third letter that was waiting for him. He was not at ease; his mind felt the need of relief.

The third letter was from Rufus Dingwell; announcing the close of his tour in Ireland, and his intention of shortly joining Amelius in London. The excellent American expressed, with his customary absence of reserve, his fervent admiration of Irish hospitality, Irish beauty, and Irish whisky. “Green Erin wants but one thing more,” Rufus predicted, “to be a Paradise on earth — it wants the day to come when we shall send an American minister to the Irish Republic.” Laughing over this quaint outbreak, Amelius turned from the first page to the second. As his eyes fell on the next paragraph, a sudden change passed over him; he let the letter drop on the floor.

“One last word,” the American wrote, “about that nice long bright letter of yours. I have read it with strict attention, and thought over it considerably afterwards. Don’t be riled, friend Amelius, if I tell you in plain words, that your account of the Farnabys doesn’t make me happy — quite the contrary, I do assure you. My back is set up, sir, against that family. You will do well to drop them; and, above all things, mind what you are about with the brown miss, who has found her way to your favourable opinion in such an almighty hurry. Do me a favour, my good boy. Just wait till I have seen her, will you?”

Mrs. Farnaby, Mellicent, Rufus — all three strangers to each other; and all three agreed nevertheless in trying to part him from the beautiful young Englishwoman! “I don’t care,” Amelius thought to himself “They may say what they please — I’ll marry Regina, if she will have me!”

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Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:30