“It is horrible waiting for dead people’s shoes,” said Maurice, with a little shudder; “besides, Mr. Harlowe is just as likely as not to leave his money to a hospital, or to the British Museum, or the National Gallery—you could not count upon anything.”
“We could at all events wait and see.”
“And be engaged all that time on the off-chance?” he said, drearily; “that is a miserable prospect.”
“Then you do wish to get rid of me!” she said, looking at him suspiciously; “you have seen some other woman.”
“Pooh! what a little fool you are!” He jumped up angrily from his chair, leaving her there upon the hearthrug. A woman makes a false move when she speaks of “another woman” to the man whose affection for her is on the wane. In the present instance the accusation was utterly without foundation. Many as were his self-reproaches on her account, that one had never been amongst them. If he did not love her, neither had he the slightest fancy for any other woman. Her remark irritated him beyond measure; it seemed to annul and wipe out the score of his own shortcomings towards her, and to make himself, not her, the injured one.
“Women are the most irrational, the most unjust, the most thoroughly pig-headed set of creatures on the face of the earth!” he burst forth, angrily.
She saw her mistake by this time. She was no fool; she was quick enough—sharp as a needle—where her love did not, as love invariably does, warp and blind her judgment.
“I am sorry, Maurice,” she said, humbly. “I did not mean to doubt you, of course. Have you not said you love me? Sit down again, please.”
He sat down only half appeased, looking glum and sulky. She felt that some concession on her part was necessary. She took his hand and stroked it softly. She knew so well that he did not love her, and yet she clung so desperately to the hope that she could win him back; she would not own to herself even in the furthermost recesses of her own heart that his love was dead. She would not believe it; to put it in words to herself even would have half killed her; but still she was forced to acknowledge that unless she met him half-way she might lose him altogether.
“I will tell you what I will do, Maurice,” she said thoughtfully. “I will consent to let our engagement be in abeyance for the present; I will cease to write to you unless I have anything particular to say, and I will not expect you to write to me. If people question us, we will deny any engagement between us—we will say that we are each of us free—but on one condition only, that you will promise me most solemnly, on your honour as a gentleman, that should either of us be left any money—should there be, say, a clear thousand a year between us, within the next five years——”
“My dear Helen, I am as likely to have a thousand a year as to be presented with the regalia.”
“Never mind. If it is unlikely, so much the worse—or the better, whichever you may like to call it. But if such a thing does happen, give me your word of honour that you will come to me at once—that, in fact, our engagement shall be renewed. If things are no better, our prospects no brighter, in five years from now—well, then, let us each be free to marry elsewhere.”