“Have you heard of Sir John’s latest vagary, grandpapa? He is gone down to Kynaston to hunt—so there’s an end of him.”
“Humph! Where did you hear that?”
“I’ve been lunching at Lady Kynaston’s.”
The speaker stood by the window of one of the large houses at Prince’s Gate overlooking the Horticultural Gardens. She was a small, slight woman, with fair pale features and a mass of soft yellow hair. She had a delicate complexion and very clear blue eyes. Altogether she was a pretty little woman. A stranger would have guessed her to be a girl barely out of her teens. Helen Romer was in reality five-and-twenty, and she had been a widow four years.
Of her brief married life few people could speak with any certainty, although there were plenty of surmises and conjectures concerning it. All that was known was that Helen had lived with her grandfather till she was nineteen; that one fine morning she had walked out of the house and had been married to a man whom her grandfather disapproved of, and to whom she had always professed perfect indifference. It was also known that eighteen months later her husband, having rapidly wasted his existence by drink and other irregular courses, had died in miserable poverty; and that Helen, not being able to set up a home of her own, upon her slender fortune of some five or six thousand pounds, had returned to her grandfather’s house in Prince’s Gate, where she had lived ever since.
Why she had married William Romer no one ever exactly knew—perhaps Helen herself least of any one. It certainly was not for love; it could hardly have been from any worldly motive. Some people averred, and possibly they were not far wrong, that she had done so out of pique because the man she loved did not want her.
However that might be, Mrs. Romer returned a widow, and not a very disconsolate one, to her grandfather’s house.
It is certain that she would not have lived there could she have helped it. She did not love old Mr. Harlowe, neither did Mr. Harlowe love her. A sense of absolute duty to his dead daughter’s child on the one side, a sense of absolute necessity on the other, kept the two together. Their natures were inharmonious. They kept up a form of affection and intimacy openly; in reality, they had not one single thought in common.
It is not too much to say that Mr. Harlowe positively disliked his grand-daughter. He had, perhaps, good reason for it. Helen had been nothing but a trouble to him. He had not desired to bring up a young lady in his house; he had not wished for the society which her presence entailed, nor for the dissipations of London life into which he was dragged more or less against his will. Added to which, Helen had not striven to please him in essential matters. She had married a gambling, drinking blackguard, whom he had forbidden to enter his doors; and now, when she might retrieve her position, and marry well and creditably, she refused to make the slightest effort to meet his views.