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thorough-going beyond reason, as he knew, passionate in her depths he was sure, scorning laws that opposed her and hating all who wronged her, with a great estate as a prize to be fought for-of a girl like this letting herself be tossed about among her acquaintances without any sort of plan.
However, he must be patient again. “Well," he said, “ your visit in the country will be pleasanter than it might have been. You won't be troubled by the neighbourhood of a scoundrel. . . . . But if you have any notion of searching Copleston in the absence of its owner, you may spare yourself the pains. No will is to be found anywhere."
“ What! exclaimed Helen. “ Is not Mr. Waldron at Copleston?"
She was so obviously startled at his obvious piece of news that the most unreasonable of all unreasonable jealousy fell over him. He was so new in love that its phases were playing chaos in him. Ever since seeing Helen he had been jealous of Waldron's admiration for her, and even that long talk in the churchyard had been rankling. The feeling was absolutely and preposterously without reason, but in his hungry way he hated to think that she and Waldron should even have quarrelled eye to eye. A man who comes to be quarrelled with may come too near ; he wished to think of Helen as shut up in her present poverty and helplessness, without a friend but himself, or even a visible enemy in the shape of a man, and that man Victor Waldron. For, with all the duller part of his naturebut not altogether without experience—he held that hate and love are next-door neighbours, and, yet more dully, that all girls prefer fops to men. He despised Waldron for his foppish affectations, which is the same thing as saying that he envied them. Helen's startled question made him savage. Simple indifference is the most satisfactory feeling on the part of the woman one loves towards one's enemy, hate is a great deal too warm.
“No,” said Gideon, “he is not at Copleston. He has never been there since you left it, and most likely never will be. He is in his own country for aught I know, spending Copleston in New York or Spraggville ; or, being an American, and Paris being shut up, he's more likely in Rome. All the Yankees have got a craze that Rome isn't a suburb of Spraggville. If you want to meet Victor Waldron, Miss Reid, I think you'd better visit somebody in Rome-if you can stand the way in which all the inhabitants twang English through the nose, and sculpt, and talk of the Eye-talians.”
Gideon had to let out his growing wrath, and Victor Waldron's fellow-countrymen were the first objects at hand. He had brought a good many British prejudices home with him-at least as many as he had carried out—and had never been in Rome. The piece of petulance was not meant for Helen, though it wrapped up a point that was meant for her. But she did not notice even the apparently imbecile suggestion that she, Helen Reid, wished to meet Victor Waldron at Copleston, and was going into its neighbourhood for that impossible end-a suggestion as imbecile as it was right, and an end as impossible as it was true.
Down went her house of cards-queen, knave, and all.
It had been a very flimsy house, even for one of cards. But she had built it for strength, and had thought it strong, so the blow was as great as if it had been built of marble and iron. Never had she felt till now that her helplessness was utter and absolute-only equalled by the passion of desire to do anything and all things for Alan. She was too paralysed even to sigh, as one does at the downfall of a common dream. To will wrong without the power to do wrong-what on the face of the whole earth is half so bitter and so hard?
“What can I do?" she almost cried out, forgetting where she was, who was with her, and what her cry of weakness might mean.
Gideon smiled—that smile which had gone far to make Waldron his friend, and was the best part of him. He had not been clever enough to find out her intended plan of action, but his honest bit of anger had served him as well as instinct in defeating her plan. She would not talk of leaving London any more, he was sure. “ What can you do? Trust, dear Miss Helen. That is the first great thing. For one thing--you may trust me. Perhaps you have not yet learned the power of money in this world. It can't do everything, but it can buy secrets, and fight the law, and recover rights when nothing else can. I have been poor and rich, and I know what both the things mean. No-you cannot fight Victor Waldron, but I can, and I will. People call me rich now. But nobody-not even I myself-knows how rich I shall be in a few weeks from now. I'm the last man to boast of such things. You are the first man, woman, or child who has heard me speak in this way. I tell you that you may know what
you are trusting, as well as whom. Dear Miss Helen, it is only too true that there is no will, and that you and your brother have no rights at law. But as long as Gideon Skull has even a poor ten thousand a year, neither you nor he is poor. Be brave, and trust, even if Copleston must go. Here is your turning at last,” he said with a sigh. “Good-byemfor now."
“Good-bye,” said Helen coldly—not with intention, but because her heart felt cold. Everything was lost and gone, except Gideon Skull. She went home, and despaired. Her scheme looked very ugly now that it had become impossible. But she felt, in herself, that its impossibility was no merit of hers, and that the wrong of a thing is complete when the thing is planned. Yes, it is hard to wish what one hates oneself for having wished, and to feel at the same time that the self-contempt comes from having failed. It disposes one to resolve never to fail again. As for the self-contempt, that cannot be felt twice over. What could Helen do for her brother now?
Gideon, having bid for Helen the ten thousand a year at least which he was going to have in full time to make his statement perfectly true, returned to the Argus. He felt he was not making a fool of himself in bidding even twenty thousand a year for this girl, seeing that he knew all about the will. If it did not end in making him master of Copleston, it would ensure the ruin of Victor Waldron, and bring him a good dowry with his wife and a considerable amount of prize-money from his brother-in-law. Well, perhaps not that, though gratitude was not to be looked for from the high-minded and unworldly type of young man. But the rest was secure, and probably a great deal more. But, in spite of all things, he was thinking of Helen herself much more than of Copleston.
“ Crowder," he said, when he reached the office again, “Miss Reid tells me she is leaving town. You'll give me all private letters from her brother, and I'll forward them to wherever she may be. That's all. Remember Saturday."
"I will !” said Mr. Crowder, sending a look of defiance across the table to Mr. Sims.
Luke. – A fig for all such baubles, and the fools
Without a fulcrum-so the dust be gold. SURE enough, when Helen went indoors again she found upon the mantelpiece a letter from Bertha. There was no need to open it in order to know that it contained a pressing invitation to her and her mother to make a long stay at Thorp End Without such an invitation the letter would not have been from Bertha. Helen did not take the trouble to open the letter immediately. What did any. thing signify? The whole future looked too hideous for facing. Alan, at barely more than five-and-twenty, was to accept as his destiny a life of heartless plodding for daily bread—what would he become? She, at less than five-and-twenty, was to accept as hersnothing; and to accept this no-life after having set herself to do all things for Alan. She had been robbed of all that she had made up her mind to live for, and nothing was left but the barrenness of waiting for what she knew nothing of, save that it was something which could never come to her. Waiting to turn into a man, perhaps—that would be the best thing, and by no means the most impossible. In what spirit can a girl, in her first womanhood, tell herself consciously that such a life as this must be hers?
If she have one least touch of nature in common with Helen Reid, she will have but one answer to give herself. She will flatly refuse. There was as much desire for the fulness of life in her as if she had not devoted her life to her brother's, and far more than if she had not been torn out of her natural world. In leaving Helen out of it, Mrs. Reid had neglected to take into account a very considerable element in her scheme for Alan.
Fortunately—or unfortunately-her mother was not in their parlour when she came in, so she had time to think quietly, as well as to feel the whole need for thinking. She was by no means blind to the very plainly written cause of Gideon's energy and devotionhe had taken care to print it clearly and largely enough in looks, movements, tones, in everything but mere words, which in themselves count for nothing in such cases. For that matter, it was these unspoken speeches of Gideon which had given rise to her barren idea of using what he had taught her against the usurper of Copleston. At any rate, she was driven to think a great deal of Gideon Skullalmost as much as he could have desired, though not altogether in the way
that he would have chosen. She felt no instinctive liking for the man. Women are not much better or more exacting judges of the points which go to make up a gentleman than men are of the attributes of ladies; but she could not help feeling that if to be a gentleman means to be like her father and her brother, then Gideon Skull could not be one. He was coarse both in his choice and in his use of words, and absolutely without the faintest flavour of courtesy. But then, on the other hand, he was the most perfect of gentlemen,
if to be a gentleman means to be unlike Victor Waldron. And after all, is not outward coarseness and roughness one of the most famous notes of the diamond ? What is polish but an accident? It was no fault of Gideon's that he had been hardened and roughened by a life spent in fighting single-handed against the world, and winning. Yes, he had won in the battle of life ; Helen was in a mood to look upon that as the greatest thing a man can do. If likeness of look comes from likeness of thought, there was every reason for the growth of the likeness between Helen and her mother.
And what, after all, mattered the birth or breeding of man or woman to a nameless nobody like her? Had she not been declaring war against the whole unjust world to which Victor Waldron belonged, -to make up for her father's cowardice and her brother's tame submission? Why, Gideon Skull, who had fought and won, was a hero ; and was she to be so cowardly and so submissive as to throw away
her power over such a man because his words lacked polish and his manner courtesy ?
He was strong, she felt ; but she was stronger than he, she knew. The only question worth thinking about was what she should do with him. Being himself part of her enemy, the world, his only use was to be used. How she could use wealth, however it might come to her, she knew very well. Her mother would be put above want, Alan's uphill path to Bertha would be made straight and level, Copleston might be won back, and life for herself, though it could never again become beautiful, might be turned into a space in which some few wrongs might be righted and a little good might be done. She would not feel so wholly like an insect who has got caught in the wheels of a machine, and whose capacities for life and flight are being ground to pieces uselessly.
Yes, it would be terrible waste to let Gideon Skull slip out of her hand. The only question was how, and not whether, she should use him. And that is a question which can hardly help answering itself, when it lies between a woman and a man. Victor Waldron was the shadow of the piece of flesh, the two birds in the bush, the half loaf, compared with Gideon.
She soon, however, had enough of straightforward thinking about such things. It is best to let them drift, and spare one the discomfort of any avoidable loss of self-respect by settling themselves. She opened Bertha's letter, but only took the most languid interest in what her dearest friend had to say to her. There was nothing in it beyond what she had expected, and yet it seemed to her as if it had been written to quite another Helen Reid than the Helen