Gilbert Fenton called in Queen Anne’s Court within a few hours of Marian’s departure, and was not a little disappointed when he was told that she had gone back to Hampshire. He had relied upon seeing her again—not once only, but several times—before her return. He had promised Jacob Nowell that he would watch over and protect her interests; and it was a sincere unqualified wish to do this that influenced him now. More than a dear friend, the sweetest and dearest of all womankind, she could never be to him. He accepted the position with resignation. The first sharp bitterness of her loss was over. That he should ever cease to love her was impossible; but it seemed to him that a chivalrous friendship for her, a disinterested brotherly affection, was in no manner incompatible with that hapless silent love. No word of his, in all their intercourse to come, should ever remind her of that hidden devotion; no shadow of the past should ever cloud the calm brightness of the present. It was a romantic fancy, perhaps, for a man of business, whose days were spent in the very press and tumult of commercial life; but it had lifted Gilbert Fenton out of that slough of despond into which he had fallen when Marian seemed utterly lost to him—vanished altogether out of his existence.
He had a sense of bitter disappointment, therefore, when he found that she had gone, leaving neither letter nor message for him. How little value his friendship must needs possess for her, when she could abandon him thus without a word! He had felt sure that she would consult him upon her affairs; but no, she had her husband to whom to appeal, and had no need of any other counsellor.
“I was a fool to think that I could ever be anything to her, even a friend,” he said to himself bitterly; “women are incapable of friendship. It is all or nothing with them; a blind self-abnegation or the coldest indifference. Devotion cannot touch them, unless the man who gives it happen to be that one man out of a thousand who has the power to bewitch their senses. Truth and affection, of themselves, have no value with them. How many people spoke to me of this Holbrook as an unattractive man; and yet he won my love away from me, and holds her with an influence so complete, that my friendship seems worthless to her. She cannot give me a word or a thought.”
Mr. Fenton made some inquiries about the funeral arrangements and found that these had been duly attended to by the lawyer, and a gentleman who had been with Jacob Nowell a good deal of late, who seemed to be some relation to the old man, Mr. Tulliver said, and took a great deal upon himself. This being done, there was, of course, no occasion for Gilbert to interfere, and he was glad to be released from all responsibility. Having ascertained this, he asked for the address of the late Mr. Nowell’s lawyer; and being told it, went at once to Mr. Medler’s office. He did not consider himself absolved from the promise he had made the old man by Marian’s indifference, and was none the less anxious to watch over her interests because she seemed to set so little value on his friendship.