Foul Play

By CHARLES READE and DION BOUCICAULT. Boston : Ticknor and Fields.
PERHAPS if Robinson Crusoe had not lived, Miss Rolleston and Mr. Penfold had never been born.; but this is not certain ; and, on the other hand, it is very clear that the plot of this bewitching novel is one of the freshest and most taking to be imagined. If we had the very hardest heart for fiction, and were as exacting in our novels as men are in their neighbors’ morals, we think we could ask nothing better than that a young lady and gentleman of this period should be cast away together upon a tropical island in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, and there left for several months to the mutual dependence, the constant companionship, and the vicissitudes of soul inevitable from the situation. If we could desire anything more, it would be that this young lady should have been wrecked in going from Australia to be married in London, and that this young gentleman should have been an escaped ticket-of-leave man, refined, conscientious, and unjustly condemned to transportation for a crime committed by her betrothed ; — and these blissful conditions we have exactly in “ Foul Play.” It seems almost too great a happiness when we have added to them the fact that the Rev. Mr. Penfold has already quarrelled with Miss Rolleston, who rejects his love, and believes him a slanderous and wicked villain, because he has accused her betrothed, and that he is put upon his most guarded behavior by this circumstance, until she herself consents to believe him good and just, even while clinging to her troth with his enemy.
Being a character of Mr. Reade’s creation, it is not necessary to say that Helen Rolleston is a very natural and lovable woman, admirably illogical, cruel, sagacious, and generous. Through all her terrible disasters and thrilling adventures she is always a young lady, and no more abandoned on that far-away island by her exquisite breeding and the pretty conventions of her English girlhood, than she would be upon her native croquet - ground. A delicious charm is gained to the romance by the retention of these society instincts and graces, which are made to harmonize rather than conflict with the exhibitions of a woman’s greatness and self-devotion, when occasion calls forth those qualities. Helen’s progress from prejudice to passion is tacit, and is always confessed more by some last effort of tire former than by any expression of the latter. When she suspects that Penfold is only making her comfortable on the island because he intends her to pass the rest of her days there, and furiously upbraids him, she does his purpose a gross wrong, though she strikes at the heart of his unconscious desire, which nothing but her own love for him could reveal to her. She makes him a sublime reparation when at last the steamer appears which has come to seek her, and she will not kindle the signal-fire which he had built on the height, but which he cannot himself reach for illness ; and so reveals that she dreads the rescue that shall divide them. It is fortunate for the author’s invention, no doubt, that her father arrives upon the steamer just at that time; yet until the moment that her father takes her in his arms, nothing has soiled the purity of her dream of love. He finds in her lover an escaped ticket-of-leave man, and the shock of now beholding Penfold in this light for the first time naturally prompts those Wild and most amusing reproaches that Helen heaps upon him for winning her heart under a false character ; but she is heroic and quite as womanly again when she defends him against her father’s blame, pours out all her love upon him, and puts a vehement and tremendous faith in his declaration that he is not a felon, but a martyr. With the chambermaid of the HollyTree Inn, witnessing the adieux of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Junior, through the keyhole, the reader feels that “ It’s a shame to part ’em ’! ” and does not care much for the ingenious story after Mr. Penfold is left alone on his island, though, of course, one reads on to the reunion of the lovers, and, in a minor way, enjoys all the plotting and punishment and reward that take place.
That part, however, Wilkie Collins could have done, while the island and its people are solely Mr. Reade’s. This novelist, at all times brilliant and fascinating, has given us of his best in “ Foul Play,” and in a story unburdened by the problem that crushed “Griffith Gaunt,” and, dealing simply with the play of character amid beautiful scenes that give it the most novel and winning relief, has produced a work of which nothing but a superhuman dulness and obduracy could resist the sorcery.