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The Professor

Chapter 23
IT was two o'clock when I returned to my lodgings; my dinner, just brought in
from a neighbouring hotel, smoked on the table; I sat down thinking to eat--had
the plate been heaped with potsherds and broken glass, instead of boiled beef
and haricots, I could not have made a more signal failure: appetite had forsaken
me. Impatient of seeing food which I could not taste, I put it all aside into a
cupboard, and then demanded, "What shall I do till evening?" for before six P.M.
it would be vain to seek the Rue Notre Dame aux Neiges; its inhabitant (for me it
had but one) was detained by her vocation elsewhere. I walked in the streets of
Brussels, and I walked in my own room from two o'clock till six; never once in that
space of time did I sit down. I was in my chamber when the last-named hour
struck; I had just bathed my face and feverish hands, and was standing near the
glass; my cheek was crimson, my eye was flame, still all my features looked
quite settled and calm. Descending swiftly the stair and stepping out, I was glad
to see Twilight drawing on in clouds; such shade was to me like a grateful
screen, and the chill of latter Autumn, breathing in a fitful wind from the north-
west, met me as a refreshing coolness. Still I saw it was cold to others, for the
women I passed were wrapped in shawls, and the men had their coats buttoned
When are we quite happy? Was I so then? No; an urgent and growing dread
worried my nerves, and had worried them since the first moment good tidings
had reached me. How was Frances? It was ten weeks since I had seen her, six
since I had heard from her, or of her. I had answered her letter by a brief note,
friendly but calm, in which no mention of continued correspondence or further
visits was made. At that hour my bark hung on the topmost curl of a wave of fate,
and I knew not on what shoal the onward rush of the billow might hurl it; I would
not then attach her destiny to mine by the slightest thread; if doomed to split on
the rock, or run a aground on the sand-bank, I was resolved no other vessel
should share my disaster: but six weeks was a long time; and could it be that she
was still well and doing well? Were not all sages agreed in declaring that
happiness finds no climax on earth? Dared I think that but half a street now
divided me from the full cup of contentment--the draught drawn from waters said
to flow only in heaven?
I was at the door; I entered the quiet house; I mounted the stairs; the lobby was
void and still, all the doors closed; I looked for the neat green mat; it lay duly in its
"Signal of hope!" I said, and advanced. "But I will be a little calmer; I am not going
to rush in, and get up a scene directly." Forcibly staying my eager step, I paused
on the mat.
"What an absolute hush! Is she in? Is anybody in?" I demanded to myself. A little
tinkle, as of cinders falling from a grate, replied; a movement--a fire was gently