‘You shall be troubled no more with Winifred Hurtle.’ So Mrs Hurtle had said, speaking in perfect good faith to the man whom she had come to England with the view of marrying. And then when he had said good-bye to her, putting out his hand to take hers for the last time, she declined that. ‘Nay,’ she had said; ‘this parting will bear no farewell.’
Having left her after that fashion Paul Montague could not return home with very high spirits. Had she insisted on his taking that letter with the threat of the horsewhip as the letter which she intended to write to him — that letter which she had shown him, owning it to be the ebullition of her uncontrolled passion, and had then destroyed — he might at any rate have consoled himself with thinking that, however badly he might have behaved, her conduct had been worse than his. He could have made himself warm and comfortable with anger, and could have assured himself that under any circumstances he must be right to escape from the clutches of a wildcat such as that. But at the last moment she had shown that she was no wild cat to him. She had melted, and become soft and womanly. In her softness she had been exquisitely beautiful; and as he returned home he was sad and dissatisfied with himself. He had destroyed her life for her — or, at least, had created a miserable episode in it which could hardly be obliterated. She had said that she was all alone, and had given up everything to follow him — and he had believed her. Was he to do nothing for her now? She had allowed him to go, and after her fashion had pardoned him the wrong he had done her. But was that to be sufficient for him — so that he might now feel inwardly satisfied at leaving her, and make no further inquiry as to her fate? Could he pass on and let her be as the wine that has been drunk — as the hour that has been enjoyed as the day that is past?
But what could he do? He had made good his own escape. He had resolved that, let her be woman or wild cat, he would not marry her, and in that he knew he had been right. Her antecedents, as now declared by herself, unfitted her for such a marriage. Were he to return to her he would be again thrusting his hand into the fire. But his own selfish coldness was hateful to him when he thought that there was nothing to be done but to leave her desolate and lonely in Mrs Pipkin’s lodgings.
During the next three or four days, while the preparations for the dinner and the election were going on, he was busy in respect to the American railway. He again went down to Liverpool, and at Mr Ramsbottom’s advice prepared a letter to the board of directors, in which he resigned his seat, and gave his reasons for resigning it; adding that he should reserve to himself the liberty of publishing his letter, should at any time the circumstances of the railway company seem to him to make such a course desirable. He also wrote a letter to Mr Fisker, begging that gentleman to come to England, and expressing his own wish to retire altogether from the firm of Fisker, Montague, and Montague upon receiving the balance of money due to him — a payment which must, he said, be a matter of small moment to his two partners, if, as he had been informed, they had enriched themselves by the success of the railway company in San Francisco. When he wrote these letters at Liverpool the great rumour about Melmotte had not yet sprung up. He returned to London on the day of the festival, and first heard of the report at the Beargarden. There he found that the old set had for the moment broken itself up. Sir Felix Carbury had not been heard of for the last four or five days — and then the whole story of Miss Melmotte’s journey, of which he had read something in the newspapers, was told to him. ‘We think that Carbury has drowned himself’ said Lord Grasslough, ‘and I haven’t heard of anybody being heartbroken about it.’ Lord Nidderdale had hardly been seen at the club. ‘He’s taken up the running with the girl,’ said Lord Grasslough. ‘What he’ll do now, nobody knows. If I was at it, I’d have the money down in hard cash before I went into the church. He was there at the party yesterday, talking to the girl all the night; — a sort of thing he never did before. Nidderdale is the best fellow going, but he was always an ass.’ Nor had Miles Grendall been seen in the club for three days. ‘We’ve got into a way of play the poor fellow doesn’t like,’ said Lord Grasslough; ‘and then Melmotte won’t let him out of his sight. He has taken to dine there every day.’ This was said during the election — on the very day on which Miles deserted his patron; and on that evening he did dine at the club. Paul Montague also dined there, and would fain have heard something from Grendall as to Melmotte’s condition; but the secretary, if not faithful in all things, was faithful at any rate in his silence. Though Grasslough talked openly enough about Melmotte in the smoking-room Miles Grendall said never a word.
On the next day, early in the afternoon, almost without a fixed purpose, Montague strolled up to Welbeck Street, and found Hetta alone. ‘Mamma has gone to her publisher’s,’ she said. ‘She is writing so much now that she is always going there. Who has been elected, Mr Montague?’ Paul knew nothing about the election, and cared very little. At that time, however, the election had not been decided. ‘I suppose it will make no difference to you whether your chairman be in Parliament or not?’ Paul said that Melmotte was no longer a chairman of his. ‘Are you out of it altogether, Mr Montague?’ Yes; — as far as it lay within his power to be out of it, he was out of it. He did not like Mr Melmotte, nor believe in him. Then with considerable warmth he repudiated all connection with the Melmotte party, expressing deep regret that circumstances had driven him for a time into that alliance. ‘Then you think that Mr Melmotte is —?’
‘Just a scoundrel; — that’s all.’
‘You heard about Felix?’
‘Of course I heard that he was to marry the girl, and that he tried to run off with her. I don’t know much about it. They say that Lord Nidderdale is to marry her now.’
‘I think not, Mr Montague.’
‘I hope not, for his sake. At any rate, your brother is well out of it.’
‘Do you know that she loves Felix? There is no pretence about that. I do think she is good. The other night at the party she spoke to me.’
‘You went to the party, then?’
‘Yes; — I could not refuse to go when mamma chose to take me. And when I was there she spoke to me about Felix. I don’t think she will marry Lord Nidderdale. Poor girl; — I do pity her. Think what a downfall it will be if anything happens.’
But Paul Montague had certainly not come there with the intention of discussing Melmotte’s affairs, nor could he afford to lose the opportunity which chance had given him. He was off with one love, and now he thought that he might be on with the other. ‘Hetta,’ he said, ‘I am thinking more of myself than of her — or even of Felix.’
‘I suppose we all do think more of ourselves than of other people,’ said Hetta, who knew from his voice at once what it was in his mind to do.
‘Yes; — but I am not thinking of myself only. I am thinking of myself, and you. In all my thoughts of myself I am thinking of you too.’
‘I do not know why you should do that.’
‘Hetta, you must know that I love you.’
‘Do you?’ she said. Of course she knew it. And of course she thought that he was equally sure of her love. Had he chosen to read signs that ought to have been plain enough to him, could he have doubted her love after the few words that had been spoken on that night when Lady Carbury had come in with Roger and interrupted them? She could not remember exactly what had been said; but she did remember that he had spoken of leaving England for ever in a certain event, and that she had not rebuked him; — and she remembered also how she had confessed her own love to her mother. He, of course, had known nothing of that confession; but he must have known that he had her heart!
So at least she thought. She had been working some morsel of lace, as ladies do when ladies wish to be not quite doing nothing. She had endeavoured to ply her needle, very idly, while he was speaking to her, but now she allowed her hands to fall into her lap. She would have continued to work at the lace had she been able, but there are times when the eyes will not see clearly, and when the hands will hardly act mechanically.
‘Yes — I do. Hetta, say a word to me. Can it be so? Look at me for one moment so as to let me know.’ Her eyes had turned downwards after her work. ‘If Roger is dearer to you than I am, I will go at once.’
‘Roger is very dear to me.’
‘Do you love him as I would have you love me?’
She paused for a time, knowing that his eyes were fixed upon her, and then she answered the question in a low voice, but very clearly. ‘No,’ she said — ‘not like that.’
‘Can you love me like that?’ He put out both his arms as though to take her to his breast should the answer be such as he longed to hear. She raised her hand towards him, as if to keep him back, and left it with him when he seized it. ‘Is it mine?’ he said.
‘If you want it.’
Then he was at her feet in a moment, kissing her hand, and her dress, looking up into her face with his eyes full of tears, ecstatic with joy as though he had really never ventured to hope for such success. ‘Want it!’ he said. ‘Hetta, I have never wanted anything but that with real desire. Oh, Hetta, my own. Since I first saw you this has been my only dream of happiness. And now it is my own.’
She was very quiet, but full of joy. Now that she had told him the truth she did not coy her love. Having once spoken the word she did not care how often she repeated it. She did not think that she could ever have loved anybody but him even — if he had not been fond of her. As to Roger — dear Roger, dearest Roger — no; it was not the same thing. ‘He is as good as gold,’ she said — ‘ever so much better than you are, Paul,’ stroking his hair with her hand and looking into his eyes.
‘Better than anybody I have ever known,’ said Montague with all his energy.
‘I think he is; — but, ah, that is not everything. I suppose we ought to love the best people best; but I don’t, Paul.’
‘I do,’ said he.
‘No — you don’t. You must love me best, but I won’t be called good. I do not know why it has been so. Do you know, Paul, I have sometimes thought I would do as he would have me, out of sheer gratitude. I did not know how to refuse such a trifling thing to one who ought to have everything that he wants.’
‘Where should I have been?’
‘Oh, you! Somebody else would have made you happy. But do you know, Paul, I think he will never love any one else. I ought not to say so, because it seems to be making so much of myself. But I feel it. He is not so young a man, and yet I think that he never was in love before. He almost told me so once, and what he says is true. There is an unchanging way with him that is awful to think of. He said that he never could be happy unless I would do as he would have me — and he made me almost believe even that. He speaks as though every word he says must come true in the end. Oh, Paul, I love you so dearly — but I almost think that I ought to have obeyed him.’ Paul Montague of course had very much to say in answer to this. Among the holy things which did exist to gild this every-day unholy world, love was the holiest. It should be soiled by no falsehood, should know nothing of compromises, should admit no excuses, should make itself subject to no external circumstances. If Fortune had been so kind to him as to give him her heart, poor as his claim might be, she could have no right to refuse him the assurance of her love. And though his rival were an angel, he could have no shadow of a claim upon her — seeing that he had failed to win her heart. It was very well said — at least so Hetta thought — and she made no attempt at argument against him. But what was to be done in reference to poor Roger? She had spoken the word now, and, whether for good or bad, she had given herself to Paul Montague. Even though Roger should have to walk disconsolate to the grave, it could not now be helped. But would it not be right that it should be told? ‘Do you know I almost feel that he is like a father to me,’ said Hetta, leaning on her lover’s shoulder.
Paul thought it over for a few minutes, and then said that he would himself write to Roger. ‘Hetta, do you know, I doubt whether he will ever speak to me again.’
‘I cannot believe that.’
‘There is a sternness about him which it is very hard to understand. He has taught himself to think that as I met you in his house, and as he then wished you to be his wife, I should not have ventured to love you. How could I have known?’
‘That would be unreasonable.’
‘He is unreasonable — about that. It is not reason with him. He always goes by his feelings. Had you been engaged to him —’
‘Oh, then, you never could have spoken to me like this.’
‘But he will never look at it in that way; — and he will tell me that I have been untrue to him and ungrateful.’
‘If you think, Paul —’
‘Nay; listen to me. If it be so I must bear it. It will be a great sorrow, but it will be as nothing to that other sorrow, had that come upon me. I will write to him, and his answer will be all scorn and wrath. Then you must write to him afterwards. I think he will forgive you, but he will never forgive me.’ Then they parted, she having promised that she would tell her mother directly Lady Carbury came home, and Paul undertaking to write to Roger that evening.
And he did, with infinite difficulty, and much trembling of the spirit. Here is his letter:—
MY DEAR ROGER —
I think it right to tell you at once what has occurred to-day. I have proposed to Miss Carbury and she has accepted me. You have long known what my feelings were, and I have also known yours. I have known, too, that Miss Carbury has more than once declined to take your offer. Under these circumstances I cannot think that I have been untrue to friendship in what I have done, or that I have proved myself ungrateful for the affectionate kindness which you have always shown me. I am authorised by Hetta to say that, had I never spoken to her, it must have been the same to you. [This was hardly a fair representation of what had been said, but the writer, looking back upon his interview with the lady, thought that it had been implied.]
I should not say so much by way of excusing myself, but that you once said, that should such a thing occur there must be a division between us ever after. If I thought that you would adhere to that threat, I should be very unhappy and Hetta would be miserable. Surely, if a man loves he is bound to tell his love, and to take the chance. You would hardly have thought it manly in me if I had abstained. Dear friend, take a day or two before you answer this, and do not banish us from your heart if you can help it.
Your affectionate friend,
Roger Carbury did not take a single day — or a single hour to answer the letter. He received it at breakfast, and after rushing out on the terrace and walking there for a few minutes, he hurried to his desk and wrote his reply. As he did so, his whole face was red with wrath, and his eyes were glowing with indignation.
There is an old French saying that he who makes excuses is his own accuser. You would not have written as you have done, had you not felt yourself to be false and ungrateful. You knew where my heart was, and there you went and undermined my treasure, and stole it away. You have destroyed my life, and I will never forgive you.
You tell me not to banish you both from my heart. How dare you join yourself with her in speaking of my feelings! She will never be banished from my heart. She will be there morning, noon, and night, and as is and will be my love to her, so shall be my enmity to you.
It was hardly a letter for a Christian to write; and, yet, in those parts Roger Carbury had the reputation of being a good Christian.
Henrietta told her mother that morning, immediately on her return. ‘Mamma, Mr Paul Montague has been here.’
‘He always comes here when I am away,’ said Lady Carbury.
‘That has been an accident. He could not have known that you were going to Messrs. Leadham and Loiter’s.’
‘I’m not so sure of that, Hetta.’
‘Then, mamma, you must have told him yourself, and I don’t think you knew till just before you were going. But, mamma, what does it matter? He has been here, and I have told him —’
‘You have not accepted him?’
‘Without even asking me?’
‘Mamma, you knew. I will not marry him without asking you. How was I not to tell him when he asked me whether I— loved him —’
‘Marry him! How is it possible you should marry him? Whatever he had got was in that affair of Melmotte’s, and that has gone to the dogs. He is a ruined man, and for aught I know may be compromised in all Melmotte’s wickedness.’
‘Oh, mamma, do not say that!’
‘But I do say it. It is hard upon me. I did think that you would try to comfort me after all this trouble with Felix. But you are as bad as he is; — or worse, for you have not been thrown into temptation like that poor boy! And you will break your cousin’s heart. Poor Roger! I feel for him; — he that has been so true to us! But you think nothing of that.’
‘I think very much of my cousin Roger.’
‘And how do you show it; — or your love for me? There would have been a home for us all. Now we must starve, I suppose. Hetta, you have been worse to me even than Felix.’ Then Lady Carbury, in her passion, burst out of the room, and took herself to her own chamber.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:14