Helen was soon on her way downstairs, for it was terrifying to her to be alone and in the neighborhood of Mr. Howard. She found a sombre gathering indeed, for the guests spoke to each other only in half-whispers, and there were few smiles to be seen. Helen found herself placed opposite Mr. Harrison at the table, and she had a chance to study him by glances through the meal. "He's well dressed, anyway," she mused, "and he isn't altogether bad. I wonder if I'd dare to marry him."
After breakfast Helen strolled out upon the piazza, perhaps with some purpose in her mind; for it is not unpleasant to toy with a temptation, even when one means to resist it. At any rate, she was a little excited when she heard Mr. Harrison coming out to join her there.
"Rather a sad ending of our little party, wasn't it, Miss Davis?" he said.
"Yes," answered the girl, "I feel so sorry for poor Mr. Howard."
"He seemed to be rather ill last night," said the other. He was going to add that the fact perhaps accounted for the invalid's severity, but he was afraid of shocking Helen by his levity,—a not entirely necessary precaution, unfortunately.
"You are going back to town this morning, with the others?" Helen asked.
"No," said Mr. Harrison, somewhat to her surprise; "I have a different plan."
"Good Heavens, does he suppose he's going to stay here with me?" thought the girl.
"I received your aunt's permission to ask you," continued Mr. Harrison, "and so I need only yours."
"For what?" Helen inquired, with varied emotions.
"To drive you over to Oakdale with my rig," said the other. "I had it brought down, you know, because I thought there might be a chance to use it."
Helen had turned slightly paler, and was staring in front of her.
"Are you not fond of driving, then, Miss Davis?" asked the other, as she hesitated.
"Yes," said Helen, "but I don't like to trouble you—"
"I assure you it will be the greatest pleasure in the world," said Mr. Harrison; "I only regret that I shall not be able to see more of you, Miss Davis; it is only for the present, I hope."
"Thank you," said Helen, still very faintly.
"And I have a pair of horses that I am rather proud of," added Mr. Harrison, laughing; "I should like you to tell me what you think of them. Will you give me the pleasure?"
And Helen could not hesitate very much longer without being rude. "If you really wish it, Mr. Harrison," she said, "very well." And then someone else came out on the piazza and cut short the conversation; Helen had no time to think any more about the matter, but she had a disagreeable consciousness that her blood was flowing faster again, and that her old agitation was back in all its strength. Soon afterwards Mrs. Roberts came out and joined the two.
"Miss Davis has granted me the very great favor," said Mr. Harrison; "I fear I shall be happier than I ought to be, considering what suffering I leave behind."
"It will do no good to worry about it," said Mrs. Roberts, a reflection which often keeps the world from wasting its sympathy. "I shall have your carriage brought round."
"Isn't it rather early to start?" asked Helen.
"I don't know," said her aunt; "is it?"
"We can take a little drive if it is," said Mr. Harrison; "I mean that Miss Davis shall think a great deal of my horses."
Helen said nothing, but stood gazing in front of her across the lawns, her mind in a tempest of emotions. She could not put away from her the excitement that Mr. Harrison's presence brought; the visions of wealth and power which gleamed before her almost overwhelmed her with their vastness. But she had also the memory of her morning resolve to trouble her conscience; the result was the same confused helplessness, the dazed and frightened feeling which she so rebelled against.
"I do not want to be troubled in this way," she muttered angrily to herself, again and again; "I wish to be let alone, so that I can be happy!"
Yet there was no chance just then for her to find an instant's peace, or time for further thought; there were half a dozen people about her, and she was compelled to listen to and answer commonplace remarks about the beauty of the country in front of her, and about her singing on the previous evening.
She had to stifle her agitation as best she could, and almost before she realized it her aunt had come to summon her to get ready for the drive.
Helen hoped to have a moment's quiet then; but there was nothing to be done but put on her hat and gloves, and Mrs. Roberts was with her all the time. "Helen," she said pleadingly, as she watched the girl surveying herself in the glass, "I do hope you will not forget all that I told you."
"I wish you would let me alone about it!" cried Helen, very peevishly.
"If you only knew, my dear girl, how much I have done for you," replied the other, "and how I've planned and looked forward to this time, I don't think you'd answer me in that way."
"It isn't that, Aunt Polly," exclaimed Helen, "but I am so confused and I don't know what to think."
"I am trying my poor, humble best to show you what to think. And you could not possibly feel more worried than I just now; Helen, you could be rid of all these doubts and struggles in one instant, if you chose. Ask yourself if it is not true; you have only to give yourself into the arms of the happiness that calls you. And you never will get rid of the matter in any other way,—indeed you will not! If you should fling away this chance, the memory of it would never leave you all your life; after you knew it was too late, you would torment yourself a thousand times more than ever you can now."
"Oh, dear, dear!" cried Helen, half hysterically; "I can't stand that, Aunt Polly. I'll do anything, only let me alone! My head is aching to split, and I don't know where I am."
"And you will never find another chance like it, Helen," went on the other, with sledge-hammer remorselessness. "For if you behave in this perfectly insane way and lose this opportunity, I shall simply give you up in despair at your perversity."
"But I haven't said I was going to lose it," the girl exclaimed. "He won't be any the less in love with me if I make him wait, Aunt Polly!—"
"Mr. Harrison was going back to Cincinnati in a day or two," put in Mrs. Roberts, swiftly.
"He will stay if I wish him to," was the girl's reply. "There is no need for so much worry; one would think I was getting old."
"Old!" laughed the other. "You are so beautiful this morning, Helen, that I could fall in love with you myself." She turned the girl towards her, seeing that her toilet was finished." I haven't a thought in the world, dear, but to keep you so beautiful," she said; "I hate to see you tormenting yourself and making yourself so pale; why will you not take my advice and fling all these worries aside and let yourself be happy? That is all I want you to do, and it is so easy! Why is it that you do not want to be happy? I like to see you smile, Helen!" And Helen, who was tired of struggling, made a wry attempt to oblige her, and then broke into a laugh at herself. Meanwhile the other picked a rose from a great bunch of them that lay upon the bureau, and pinned it upon her dress.
"There, child," she, said, "he can never resist you now, I know!"
Helen kissed her excitedly upon the cheek, and darted quickly out of the door, singing, in a brave attempt to bring back her old, merry self:—
"The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la-la, Have nothing to do with the case."
A moment later, however, she recollected Mr. Howard and his misfortune, and her heart sank; she ran quickly down the steps to get the thought of him from her mind.
It was easy enough to forget him and all other troubles as well when she was once outside upon the piazza; for there were plenty of happy people, and everyone crowded about her to bid her good-by. There too was Mr. Harrison standing upon the steps waiting for her, and there was his driving-cart with two magnificent black horses, alert and eager for the sport. Helen was not much of a judge of horses, having never had one of her own to drive, but she had the eye of a person of aristocratic tastes for what was in good form, and she saw that Mr. Harrison's turnout was all of that, with another attraction for her, that it was daring; for the horses were lithe, restless creatures, thoroughbreds, both of them; and it looked as if they had not been out of the stable in a week. They were giving the groom who held them all that he could do.
Mr. Harrison held out his hand to the girl as she came down the steps, and eyed her keenly to see if her flushed cheeks would betray any sign of fear. But Helen's emotions were surging too strongly for such thoughts, and she had, besides, a little of the thoroughbred nature herself. She laughed gaily as she gave her hand to her companion and sprang into the wagon; he followed her, and as he took the reins the groom sprang aside and the two horses bounded away down the broad avenue. Helen turned once to wave her hand in answer to the chorus of good-bys that sounded from the porch, and then she faced about and sank back into the seat and drank in with delight the fresh morning breeze that blew in her face.
"Oh, I think this is fine!" she cried.
"You like driving, then?" asked the other.
"Yes indeed," was the reply. "I like this kind ever so much."
"Wait until we get out on the high-road," said Mr. Harrison, "and then we will see what we can do. I came from the West, you know, Miss Davis, so I think I am wise on the subject of horses."
The woods on either side sped by them, and Helen's emotions soon began to flow faster. It was always easy for her to forget everything and lose herself in feelings of joy and power, and it was especially easy when she was as much wrought up as she was just then. It was again her ride with the thunderstorm, and soon she felt as if she were being swept out into the rejoicing and the victory once more. She might have realized, if she had thought, that her joy was coming only because she was following her aunt's advice, and yielding herself into the arms of her temptation; but Helen was thoroughly tired of thinking; she wanted to feel, and again and again she drank in deep breaths of the breeze.
It was only a minute or so before they passed the gates of the Roberts place, and swept out of the woods and into the open country. It was really inspiring then, for Mr. Harrison gave his horses the reins, and Helen was compelled to hold on to her hat. He saw delight and laughter glowing in her countenance as she watched the landscape that fled by them, with its hillsides clad in their brightest green and with its fresh-plowed farm-lands and snowy orchards; the clattering of the horses' hoofs and the whirring of the wheels in the sandy road were music and inspiration such as Helen longed for, and she would have sung with all her heart had she been alone.
As was her way, she talked instead, with the same animation and glow that had fascinated her companion upon the previous evening. She talked of the sights that were about them, and when they came to the top of the hill and paused to gaze around at the view, she told about her trip through the Alps, and pictured the scenery to him, and narrated some of her mountain-climbing adventures; and then Mr. Harrison, who must have been a dull man indeed not to have felt the contagion of Helen's happiness, told her about his own experiences in the Rockies, to which the girl listened with genuine interest. Mr. Harrison's father, so he told her, had been a station-agent of a little town in one of the wildest portions of the mountains; he himself had begun as a railroad surveyor, and had risen step by step by constant exertion and watchfulness. It was a story of a self-made man, such as Helen had vowed to her aunt she could not bear to listen to; yet she did not find it disagreeable just then. There was an exciting story of a race with a rival road, to secure the right to the best route across the mountains; Helen found it quite as exciting as music, and said so.
"Perhaps it is a kind of music," said Mr. Harrison, laughing; "it is the only kind I have cared anything about, excepting yours."
"I had no idea people had to work so hard in the world," said Helen, dodging the compliment.
"They do, unless they have someone else to do it for them," said the other. "It is a, fierce race, nowadays, and a man has to watch and think every minute of the time. But it is glorious to triumph."
Helen found herself already a little more in a position to realize what ten million dollars amounted to, and very much more respectful and awe-stricken in her relation to them. She was sufficiently oblivious to the flight of time to be quite surprised when she gazed about her, and discovered that they were within a couple of miles of home. "I had no idea of how quickly we were going," she said.
"You are not tired, then?" asked the other.
"No indeed," Helen answered, "I enjoyed it ever so much."
"We might drive farther," said Mr. Harrison; "these horses are hardly waked up."
He reined them in a little and glanced at his watch. "It's just eleven," he said, "I think there'd be time," and he turned to her with a smile. "Would you like to have an adventure?" he asked.
"I generally do," replied the girl. "What is it?"
"I was thinking of a drive," said the other; "one that we could just about take and return by lunch-time; it is about ten miles from here."
"What is it?" asked Helen.
"I have just bought a country place near here," said Mr. Harrison. "I thought perhaps you would like to see it."
"My aunt spoke of it," Helen answered; "the Eversons' old home."
"Yes," said the other; "you know it, then?"
"I only saw it once in my life, when I was a very little girl," Helen replied, "and so I have only a dim recollection of its magnificence; the old man who lived there never saw any company."
"It had to be sold because he failed in business," said Mr. Harrison. "Would you like to drive over?"
"Very much," said Helen, and a minute later, when they came to a fork in the road, they took the one which led them to "Fairview," as the place was called.
"I think it a tremendously fine property myself," said Mr. Harrison; "I made up my mind to have it the first time I saw it. I haven't seen anything around here to equal it, and I hope to make a real English country-seat out of it. I'll tell you about what I want to do when we get there, and you can give me your advice; a man never has good taste, you know."
"I should like to see it," answered Helen, smiling; "I have a passion for fixing up things."
"We had an exciting time at the sale," went on Mr. Harrison reminiscently. "You know Mr. Everson's family wanted to keep the place themselves, and the three or four branches of the family had clubbed together to buy it; when the bidding got near the end, there was no one left but the family and myself."
"And you got it?" said Helen. "How cruel!"
"The strongest wins," laughed the other. "I had made up my mind to have it. The Eversons are a very aristocratic family, aren't they?"
"Yes," said Helen, "very, indeed; they have lived in this part of the country since the Revolution." As Mr. Harrison went on to tell her the story of the sale she found herself vividly reminded of what her aunt had told her of the difference between having a good deal of money and all the money one wanted. Perhaps, also, her companion was not without some such vaguely felt purpose in the telling. At any rate, the girl was trembling inwardly more and more at the prospect which was unfolding itself before her; as excitement always acted upon her as a stimulant, she was at her very best during the rest of the drive. She and her companion were conversing very merrily indeed when Fairview was reached.
The very beginning of the place was imposing, for there was a high wall along the roadway for perhaps a quarter of a mile, and then two massive iron gates set in great stone pillars; they were opened by the gate-keeper in response to Mr. Harrison's call. Once inside the two had a drive of some distance through what had once been a, handsome park, though it was a semi-wilderness then. The road ascended somewhat all the way, until the end of the forest was reached, and the first view of the house was gained; Helen could scarcely restrain a cry of pleasure as she saw it, for it was really a magnificent old mansion, built of weather-beaten gray stone, and standing upon a high plateau, surrounded by a lawn and shaded by half a dozen great oaks; below it the lawn sloped in a broad terrace, and in the valley thus formed gleamed a little trout-pond, set off at the back by a thickly-wooded hillside.
"Isn't it splendid!" the girl exclaimed, gazing about her.
"I thought it was rather good," said Mr. Harrison, deprecatingly. "It can be made much finer, of course."
"When you take your last year's hay crop from the lawn, for one thing," laughed she. "But I had no idea there was anything so beautiful near our little Oakdale. Just look at that tremendous entrance!"
"It's all built in royal style," said Mr. Harrison. "The family must have been wealthy in the old days."
"Probably slave-dealers, or something of that kind," observed Helen. "Is the house all furnished inside?"
"Yes," said the other, "but I expect to do most of it over. Wouldn't you like to look?" He asked the question as he saw the gate-keeper coming up the road, presumably with the keys.
The girl gazed about her dubiously; she would have liked to go in, except that she was certain it would be improper. Helen had never had much respect for the proprieties, however, being accustomed to rely upon her own opinions of things; and in the present case, besides, she reflected that no one would ever know anything about it.
"We'd not have time to do more than glance around," continued the other, "but we might do that, if you like."
"Yes," said Helen, after a moment more of hesitation, "I think I should."
Her heart was beating very fast as the two ascended the great stone steps and as the door opened before them; her mind could not but be filled with the overwhelming thought that all that she saw might be hers if she really wanted it. The mere imagining of Mr. Harrison's wealth had been enough to make her thrill and burn, so it was to be expected that the actual presence of some of it would not fail of its effect. It is to be observed that the great Temptation took place upon a high mountain, where the kingdoms of the earth could really be seen; and Helen as she gazed around had the further knowledge that the broad landscape and palatial house, which to her were almost too splendid to be real, were after all but a slight trifle to her companion.
The girl entered the great hallway, with its huge fireplace and its winding stairway, and then strolled through the parlors of the vast house; Helen had in all its fullness the woman's passion for spending money for beautiful things, and it had been her chief woe in all her travels that the furniture and pictures and tapestry which she gazed at with such keen delight must be forever beyond her thoughts. Just at present her fancy was turned loose and madly reveling in these memories, while always above her wildest flights was the intoxicating certainty that there was no reason why they should not all be possible. She could not but recollect with a wondering smile that only yesterday she had been happy at the thought of arranging one dingy little parlor in her country parsonage, and had been trying to persuade her father to the extravagance of re-covering two chairs.
It would have been hard for Helen to keep her emotions from Mr. Harrison, and he must have guessed the reason why she was so flushed and excited. They were standing just then in the center of the great dining-room, with its massive furniture of black mahogany, and she was saying that it ought to be papered in dark red, and was conjuring up the effect to herself. "Something rich, you know, to set off the furniture," she explained.
"And you must take that dreadful portrait from over the mantel," she added, laughing. (It was a picture of a Revolutionary warrior, on horseback and in full uniform, the coloring looking like faded oilcloth.)
"I had thought of that myself," said Mr. Harrison. "It's the founder of the Eversons; there's a picture gallery in a hall back of here, with two whole rows of ancestors in it."
"Why don't you adopt them?" asked Helen mischievously.
"One can buy all the ancestors one wants to, nowadays," laughed Mr. Harrison. "I thought I'd make something more interesting out of it. I'm not much of a judge of art, you know, but I thought if I ever went abroad I'd buy up some of the great paintings that one reads about—some of the old masters, you know."
"I'm afraid you'd find very few of them for sale," said Helen, smiling.
"I'm not accustomed to fail in buying things that I want," was the other's reply. "Are you fond of pictures?"
"Very much indeed," answered the girl. As a matter of fact, the mere mention of the subject opened a new kingdom to her, for she could not count the number of times she had sat before beautiful pictures and almost wept at the thought that she could never own one that was really worth looking at. "I brought home a few myself," she said to her companion,—"just engravings, you know, half a dozen that I thought would please me; I mean to hang them around my music-room."
"Tell me about it," said Mr, Harrison. "I have been thinking of fixing up such a place myself, you know. I thought of extending the house on the side that has the fine view of the valley, and making part a piazza, and part a conservatory or music-room."
"It could be both!" exclaimed the girl, eagerly. "That would be the very thing; there ought not to be anything in a music-room, you know, except the piano and just a few chairs, and the rest all flowers. The pictures ought all to be appropriate—pictures of nature, of things that dance and are beautiful; oh, I could lose myself in such a room as that!" and Helen ran on, completely carried away by the fancy, and forgetting even Mr. Harrison for a moment.
"I have often dreamed of such a place," she said, "where everything would be sympathetic; it's a pity that one can't have a piano taken out into the fields, the way I remember reading that Haydn used to do with his harpsichord. If I were a violinist, that's the way I'd do all my playing, because then one would not need to be afraid to open his eyes; oh, it would be fine—"
Helen stopped; she was at the height of her excitement just then; and the climax came a moment afterwards. "Miss Davis," asked the man, "would you really like to arrange such a music-room?"
The tone of his voice was so different that the girl comprehended instantly; it was this moment to which she had been rushing with so much exultation; but when it came her heart almost stopped beating, and she gave a choking gasp.
"Would you really like it?" asked Mr. Harrison again, bending towards her earnestly.
"Why, certainly," said Helen, making one blind and desperate effort to dodge the issue. "I'll tell you everything that is necessary."
"That is not what I mean, Miss Davis!"
"Not?" echoed Helen, and she tried to look at him with her frank, open eyes; but when she saw his burning look, she could not; she dropped her eyes and turned scarlet.
"Miss Davis," went on the man rapidly, "I have been waiting for a chance to tell you this. Let me tell you now!"
Helen gazed wildly about her once, as if she would have fled; then she stood with her arms lying helplessly at her sides, trembling in every nerve.
"There is very little pleasure that one can get from such beautiful things alone, Miss Davis, and especially when he is as dulled by the world as myself. I thought that some day I might be able to share them with some one who could enjoy them more than I, but I never knew who that person was until last night. I know that I have not much else to offer you, except what wealth and position I have gained; and when I think of all your accomplishments, and all that you have to place you so far beyond me, I almost fear to offer myself to you. But I can only give what I have—my humble admiration of your beauty and your powers; and the promise to worship you, to give the rest of my life to seeing that you have everything in the world that you want. I will put all that I own at your command, and get as much more as I can, with no thought but of your happiness."
Mr. Harrison could not have chosen words more fitted to win the trembling girl beside him; that, he should recognize as well as she did her superiority to him, removed half of his deficiency in her eyes.
"Miss Davis," the other went on, "I cannot know how you will feel toward such a promise, but I cannot but feel that what I possess could give you opportunities of much happiness. You should have all the beauty about you that you wished, for there is nothing in the world too beautiful for you; and you should have every luxury that money can buy, to save you from all care. If this house seemed too small for you, you should have another wherever you desired it, and be mistress of it, and of everything in it; and if you cared for a social career, you should have everything to help you, and it would be my one happiness to see your triumph. I would give a thousand times what I own to have you for my wife."
So the man continued, pleading his cause, until at last he stopped, waiting anxiously for a sign from the girl; he saw that she was agitated, for her breast was heaving, and her forehead flushed, but he could not tell the reason. "Perhaps, Miss Davis," he said, humbly, "you will scorn such things as I have to offer you; tell me, is it that?"
Helen answered him, in a faint voice, "It is not that, Mr. Harrison; it is,—it is,—"
"What, Miss Davis?"
"It has been but a day! I have had no time to know you—to love you."
And Helen stopped, afraid at the words she herself was using; for she knew that for the first time in her life she had stooped to a sham and a lie. Her whole soul was ablaze with longing just then, with longing for the power and the happiness which this man held out to her; and she meant to take him, she had no longer a thought of resistance. It was all the world which offered itself to her, and she meant to clasp it to her—to lose herself quite utterly and forget herself in it, and she was already drunk with the thought. Therefore she could not but shudder as she heard the word "love" upon her lips, and knew that she had used it because she wished to make a show of hesitation.
"I did not need but one day, Miss Davis," went on the other pleadingly, "to know that I loved you—to know that I no longer set any value on the things that I had struggled all my life to win; for you are perfect, Miss Davis. You are so far beyond me that I have scarcely the courage to ask you what I do. But I must ask you, and know my fate."
He stopped again and gazed at her; and Helen looked at him wildly, and then turned away once more, trembling. She wished that he would only continue still longer, for the word was upon her lips, and yet it was horror for her to utter it, because she felt she ought not to yield so soon,—because she wanted some delay; she sought for some word that would be an evasion, that would make him urge her more strongly; she wished to be wooed and made to surrender, and yet she could find no pretext.
"Answer me, Miss Davis!" exclaimed the other, passionately.
"What—what do you wish me to say?" asked Helen faintly.
"I wish you to tell me that you will be my wife; I wish you to take me for what I can give you for your happiness and your glory. I ask nothing else, I make no terms; if you will do it, it will make me the happiest man in the world. There is nothing else that I care for in life."
And then as the girl still stood, flushed and shuddering, hovering upon the verge, he took her hand in his and begged her to reply. "You must not keep me in suspense!" he exclaimed. "You must tell me,—tell me."
And Helen, almost sinking, answered him "Yes!" It was such a faint word that she scarcely heard it herself, but the other heard it, and trembling with delight, he caught her in his arms and pressed a burning kiss upon her cheek.
The effect surprised him; for the fire which had burned Helen and inflamed her cheeks had been ambition, and ambition alone. It was the man's money that she wanted and she was stirred with no less horror than ever at the thought of the price to be paid; therefore the touch of his rough mustache upon her cheek acted upon her as an electric contact, and all the shame in her nature burst into flame. She tore herself loose with almost a scream. "No, no!" she cried. "Stop!"
Mr. Harrison gazed at her in astonishment for a moment, scarcely able to find a word to say. "Miss Davis," he protested, "Helen—what is the matter?"
"You had no right to do that!" she cried, trembling with anger.
"Helen!" protested the other, "have you not just promised to be my wife?" And the words made the girl turn white and drop her eyes in fear.
"Yes, yes," she panted helplessly, "but you should not—it is too soon!" The other stood watching her, perhaps divining a little of the cause of her agitation, and feeling, at any rate, that he could be satisfied for the present with his success. He answered, very humbly, "Perhaps you are right; I am very sorry for offending you," and stood silently waiting until the girl's emotions had subsided a little, and she had looked at him again. "You will pardon me?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," she said, weakly, "only—"
"And you will not forget the promise you have made me?"
"No," she answered, and then she gazed anxiously toward the door. "Let us go," she said imploringly; "it is all so hard for me to realize, and I feel so very faint."
The two went slowly down the hallway, Mr. Harrison not even venturing to offer her his arm; outside they stood for a minute upon the high steps, Helen leaning against a pillar and breathing very hard. She dared not raise her eyes to the man beside her.
"You wish to go now?" he asked, gently.
"Yes, please," she replied, "I think so; it is very late."
Helen scarcely knew what happened during the drive home, for she passed it in a half-dazed condition, almost overwhelmed by what she had done. She answered mechanically to all Mr. Harrison's remarks about his arrangements of the house and his plans elsewhere, but all reference to his wealth seemed powerless to waken in her a trace of the exultation that had swept her away before, while every allusion to their personal relationship was like the touch of fire. Her companion seemed to divine the fact, and again he begged her anxiously not to forget the promise she had given. Helen answered faintly that she would not; but the words were hard for her to say and it was an infinite relief to her to see Oakdale again, and to feel that the strain would soon be over, for the time at any rate.
"I shall stay somewhere in the neighborhood," said Mr. Harrison. "You will let me see you often, Helen, will you not?"
"Yes," answered Helen, mechanically.
"I will come to-morrow," said the other, "and take you driving if you like; I promised to go back and lunch with your aunt to-day, as I thought I was to return to the city." In a moment more the carriage stopped in front of Helen's home, and the girl, without waiting for anyone to assist her, leaped out and with a hasty word of parting, ran into the house. She heard the horses trotting away, and then the door closed behind her, and she stood in the dark, silent hallway. She saw no one, and after gazing about her for a moment she stole into her little music-room and flung herself down upon the couch, where she lay with her head buried in her hands.
It was a long time afterwards when she glanced up again; she was trembling all over, and her face was white.
"In Heaven's name, how can I have done it?" she whispered hoarsely, to herself. "How can I have done it? And what am I to do now?"
Nur wer der Minne Macht ent-sagt, nur wer der Liebe Lust verjagt
"Wie kommt's, dass du so traurig bist, Da alles froh erscheint? Man sieht dir's an den Augen an, Gewiss, du hast geweint."
Helen might have spent the afternoon in that situation, tormenting herself with the doubts and fears that filled her mind, had it not been for the fact that her presence was discovered by Elizabeth, the servant, who came in to clean the room. The latter of course was astonished to see her, but Helen was in no mood to vouchsafe explanations.
"Just leave me alone," she said. "I do not feel very well. And don't tell father I am here yet."
"Your father, Miss Helen!" exclaimed the woman; "didn't you get his letter?"
"What letter?" And then poor Helen was made aware of another trouble.
"Mr. Davis wrote Mrs. Roberts last night," answered the servant. "He's gone away."
"Away!" cried the girl. "Where to?"
"To New York." Then the woman went on to explain that Mr. Davis had been invited to take the place of a friend who was ill, and had left Oakdale for a week. Helen understood that the letter must have reached her aunt after her own departure.
"Dear me!" the girl exclaimed, "How unfortunate! I don't want to stay here alone."
But afterwards it flashed over her that if she did she might be able to have a week of quiet to regain her self-possession. "Mr. Harrison couldn't expect to visit me if I were alone," she thought. "But then, I suppose he could, too," she added hastily, "if I am engaged to him! And I could never stand that!"
"Miss Helen," said the servant, who had been standing and watching her anxiously, "you look very ill; is anything the matter?"
"Nothing," Helen answered, "only I want to rest. Leave me alone, please, Elizabeth."
"Are you going to stay?" the other asked; "I must fix up your room."
"I'll have to stay," said Helen. "There's nothing else to do."
"Have you had lunch yet?"
"No, but I don't want any; just let me be, please."
Helen expected the woman to protest, but she did not. She turned away, and the girl sank back upon the couch and covered her face again.
"Everything has gone wrong!" she groaned to herself, "I know I shall die of despair; I don't want to be here all alone with Mr. Harrison coming here. Dear me, I wish I had never seen him!"
And Helen's nervous impatience grew upon her, until she could stand it no more, and she sprang up and began pacing swiftly up and down the room; she was still doing that when she heard a step in the hall and saw the faithful servant in the doorway with a tray of luncheon. Elizabeth asked no questions about matters that did not concern her, but she regarded this as her province, and she would pay no attention to Helen's protests. "You'll be ill if you don't eat," she vowed; "you look paler than I ever saw you."
And so the girl sat down to attempt to please her, Elizabeth standing by and talking to her in the meantime; but Helen was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she scarcely heard a word—until the woman chanced to ask one question: "Did you hear about Mr. Arthur?"
And Helen gazed up at her. "Hear about him?" she said, "hear what about him?"
"He's very ill," said Elizabeth. Helen gave a start.
"Ill!" she gasped.
"Yes," said Elizabeth, "I thought you must know; Mr. Davis was over to see him yesterday."
"What is the matter?"
"The doctor said he must have been fearfully run down, and he was out in the storm and caught a cold; and he's been in a very bad way, delirious and unconscious by turns for two or three days."
Helen was staring at the servant in a dumb fright. "Tell me, Elizabeth," she cried, scarcely able to say the words, "he is not dangerously ill?"
"The danger is over now," the other answered, "so the doctor said, or else Mr. Davis would never have left; but he's in a bad way and it may be some time before he's up again."
Perhaps it was the girl's overwrought condition that made her more easily alarmed just then, for she was trembling all over as she heard those words. She had forgotten Arthur almost entirely during the past two days, and he came back to her at that moment as another thorn in her conscience.
"Mr. Davis said he wrote you to go and see him," went on the servant; "shall you, Miss Helen?"
"I—I don't know," said Helen faintly, "I'll see."
As a matter of fact, she knew that she almost certainly would not go to see Arthur after what had just passed; even to have him find out about it was something of which she simply could not think. She felt dread enough at having to tell her father of what had occurred with Mr. Harrison, and to see Arthur, even though he did not know about it, she knew was not in her power.
"Perhaps I ought not to have told you about it until after you had had your lunch; you are not eating anything, Miss Helen."
"I don't want anything," said Helen, mournfully; "take it now, please, Elizabeth, and please do not trouble me any more. I have a great deal to worry me."
When the woman had left the room, Helen shut the door and then sat down on a chair, staring blankly before her; there was a mirror just across the room, and her own image caught her eye, startling her by its pale and haggard look.
"Dear me, it's dreadful!" she cried aloud, springing up. "Why did I let people trouble me in this way? I can't help Arthur, and I couldn't have helped him in the beginning. It's every bit of it his own fault, and I don't see why I should let it make me ill. And it's the same with the other thing; I could have been happy without all that wealth if I'd never seen it, and now I know I'll never be happy again,—oh, I know it!"
And Helen began once more pacing up and down.
"I never was this way before in my life," she cried with increasing vexation, "and I won't have it!"
She clenched her hands angrily, struggling within herself to shake off what was tormenting her. But she might as well have tried to shake off a mountain from her shoulders; hers had been none of the stern experience that gives power and command to the character, and of the kind of energy that she needed she had none, and not even a thought of it. She tried only to forget her troubles in some of her old pleasures, and when she found that she could not read, and that the music she tried to play sounded hollow and meaningless, she could only fling herself down upon the sofa with a moan. There, realizing her own impotence, she sank into dull despair, unable any longer to realize the difficulties which troubled her, and with only one certainty in her mind—that she was more lost and helpless than she had ever thought it possible for her to be.
Time is not a thing of much consequence under such circumstances, and it was a couple of hours before Helen was aroused. She heard a carriage stop at the door, and sprang up in alarm, with the thought that it might be Mr. Harrison. But as she stood trembling in the middle of the room she heard a voice inquiring for her, and recognized it as that of her aunt; a moment later Mrs. Roberts rushed into the room, and catching sight of Helen, flung her arms eagerly about her.
"My dear girl," she cried, "Mr. Harrison has just told me about what has happened!" And then as she read her niece's state of mind in her countenance, she added, "I expected to find you rejoicing, Helen; what is the matter?"
In point of fact the woman had known pretty well just how she would find Helen, and having no idea of leaving her to her own tormenting fancies, she had driven over the moment she had finished her lunch. "I received your father's letter," she said, without waiting for Helen to answer her, "so I came right over to take you back."
"To take me back!" echoed Helen.
"Yes, my dear; you don't suppose I mean to leave you here all alone by yourself, do you? And especially at such a time as this, when Mr. Harrison wants to see you?"
"But, Aunt Polly," protested Helen, "I don't want to see him!"
"Don't want to see him? Why, my dear girl, you have promised to be his wife!"
Mrs. Roberts saw Helen shudder slightly, and so she went on quickly, "He is going to stay at the hotel in the village; you won't find it the same as being in the house with him. But I do assure you, child, there never was a man more madly in love than he is."
"But, Auntie, dear, that Mr. Howard, too!" protested Helen, trembling.
"He will not interfere with you, for he never makes any noise; and you'll not know he's there. Of course, you won't play the piano, but you can do anything else you choose. And Mr. Harrison will probably take you driving every day." Then seeing how agitated Helen was, her aunt put her arms around her again, and led her to the sofa. "Come, Helen," she said," I don't blame you for being nervous. I know just how you feel, my dear."
"Oh, Aunt Polly!" moaned the girl. "I am so wretched!"
"I know," laughed Aunt Polly; "it's the idea of having to marry him, I suppose; I felt the very same way when I was in your place. But you'll find that wears off very quickly; you'll get used to seeing him. And besides, you know that you've got to marry him, if you want any of the other happiness!"
And Mrs. Roberts stopped and gazed about her. "Think, for instance, my dear," she went on, "of having to be content with this dingy little room, after having seen that magnificent place of his! Do you know, Helen, dear, that I really envy you; and it seems quite ridiculous to come over here and find you moping around. One would think you were a hermit and did not care anything about life."
"I do care about it," said the other, "and I love beautiful things and all; but, Aunt Polly, I can't help thinking it's dreadful to have to marry."
"Come and learn to like Mr. Harrison," said the other, cheerfully. "Helen, you are really too weak to ruin your peace of mind in this way; for you could see if you chose that all your troubles are of your own making, and that if you were really determined to be happy, you could do it. Why don't you, dear?"
"I don't know," protested the girl, faintly; "perhaps I am weak, but I can't help it."
"Of course not," laughed the other, "if you spend your afternoons shut up in a half-dark room like this. When you come with me you won't be able to do that way; and I tell you you'll find there's nothing like having social duties and an appearance to maintain in the world to keep one cheerful. If you didn't have me at your elbow I really believe you'd go all to pieces."
"I fear I should," said the girl; but she could not help laughing as she allowed herself to be led upstairs, and to have the dust bathed from her face and the wrinkles smoothed from her brow. In the meantime her diplomatic aunt was unobtrusively dropping as many hints as she could think of to stir Helen to a sense of the fact that she had suddenly become a person of consequence; and whether it was these hints or merely the reaction natural to Helen, it is certain that she was much calmer when she went down to the carriage, and much more disposed to resign herself to meeting Mr. Harrison again. And Mrs. Roberts was correspondingly glad that she had been foreseeing enough to come and carry her away; she had great confidence in her ability to keep Helen from foolish worrying, and to interest her in the great future that was before her.
"And then it's just as well that she should be at my house where she can find the comfort that she loves," she reflected. "I can see that she learns to love it more every day."
The great thing, of course, was to keep her ambition as much awake as possible, and so during the drive home Mrs. Roberts' conversation was of the excitement which the announcement of Helen's engagement would create in the social world, and of the brilliant triumph which the rest of her life would be, and of the vast preparations which she was to make for it. The trousseau soon came in for mention then; and what woman could have been indifferent to a trousseau, even for a marriage which she dreaded? After that the conversation was no longer a task, for Helen's animation never failed to build itself up when it was once awake; she was so pleased and eager that the drive was over before she knew it, and before she had had time for even one unpleasant thought about meeting Mr. Harrison.
It proved not to be a difficult task after all, for Mr. Harrison was quiet and dignified, and even a little reserved, as Helen thought, so that it occurred to her that perhaps he was offended at the vehemence with which she had repelled him. She did not know, but it seemed to her that perhaps it might have been his right to embrace her after she had promised to marry him; the thought made her shudder, yet she felt sure that if she had asked her aunt she would have learned that she was very much in the wrong indeed. Helen's conscience was very restless just at that time, and it was pleasant to be able to lull it by being a little more gracious and kind to her ardent lover. The latter of course responded joyfully, so that the remainder of the afternoon passed quite pleasantly.
When Mr. Roberts arrived and had been acquainted with the tidings, he of course sought the first opportunity to see the girl, and to congratulate her upon her wonderful fortune. Helen had always found in her uncle a grave, business-like person, who treated her with indifference, and therefore inspired her with awe; it was not a little stirring to her vanity to find that she was now a person of sufficient consequence to reverse the relation. This fact did yet a little more to make her realize the vastness of her sudden conquest, and so throughout dinner she was almost as exulting in her own heart as she had been at the same time on the previous day.
Her animation mounted throughout the evening, for Mr. Harrison and her aunt talked of the future—of endless trips abroad, and of palatial houses and royal entertainments at home—until the girl was completely dazed. Afterwards, when she and Mr. Harrison were left alone, Helen fascinated her companion as completely as ever, and was radiant herself, and rejoicing. As if to cap the climax, Mr. Harrison broached the subject of a trip to New York, to see if she could find anything at the various picture dealers to suit her music room, and also of a visit to Fairview to meet an architect and discuss her plan there.
The girl went up to her room just as completely full of exultation as she had been upon the night before, yet more comfortable in the conviction that there would be no repetition of that night's worry. Yet even as the thought occurred to her, it made her tremble; and as if some fiend had arranged it especially for her torment, as she passed down the hall a nurse came silently out of one of the rooms, and through the half open doorway Helen fancied that she heard a low moan. She shuddered and darted into her own room and locked the door; yet that did not exclude the image of the sufferer, or keep it from suggesting a train of thought that plunged the girl into misery. It made her think of Arthur, and of the haggard look that had been upon his face when he left her; and all Helen's angry assertions that it was not her fault could not keep her from tormenting herself after that. Always the fact was before her that however sick he might be, even dying, she could never bear to see him again, and so Arthur became the embodiment of her awakening conscience.
The result was that the girl slept very little that night, spending half of it in fact alternately sitting in a chair and pacing the room in agitation, striving in vain to find some gleam of light to guide her out of the mazes in which she was lost. The gray dawn found her tossing feverishly about upon her pillow, yearning for the time when she had been happy, and upbraiding herself for having been drawn into her present trouble.
When she arose later on, she was more pale and wearied than she had been upon the morning before; then she had at least possessed a resolution, while this time she was only helpless and despairing. Thus her aunt found her when she came in to greet her, and the dismay of the worthy matron may be imagined.
However, being an indefatigable little body, she set bravely to work again; first of all, by rebuking the girl for her weakness she managed to rouse her to effort once more, and then by urging the necessity of seeing people and of hiding her weakness, she managed to obtain at last a semblance of cheerfulness. In the meantime Mrs. Roberts was helping her to dress and to remove all traces of her unhappiness, so that when Helen descended to breakfast she had received her first lesson in one of the chief tasks of the social regime:
"Full many in the silent night Have wept their grief away; And in the morn you fancy Their hearts were ever gay."
And Helen played her part so well that Mrs. Roberts was much encouraged, and beamed upon her across the table. As a, matter of fact, because her natural happiness was not all crushed, and because playing a part was not easy to the girl, she was very soon interested in the various plans that were being discussed. When Mr. Harrison called later on and proposed a drive, she accepted with genuine pleasure.
To be sure, she found it a trifle less thrilling than on the day before, for the novelty was gone; but that fact did not cause her much worry. In all her anticipations of the pleasure before her, it had occurred to her as little as it occurs to others in her situation to investigate the laws of the senses through which the pleasure is to be obtained. There is a whole moral philosophy to be extracted from the little word "ennui" by those who know; but Helen was not of the knowing. She believed that when she was tired of the horses she could delight herself with her beautiful house, and that when she was tired of the house she could have a new one. All her life she had been deriving ecstasy from beautiful things, from dresses, and flowers, and books, and music, and pictures; and of course it was only necessary to have an infinite quantity of such things in order to be infinitely happy. The way to have the infinite quantity was to marry Mr. Harrison, or at any rate that was Helen's view, and she was becoming more and more irritated because it did not work well in practice, and more and more convinced that her aunt must be right in blaming her weakness.
In the meantime, being in the open air and among all the things that she loved, she was bound to rejoice once more; and rejoice she did, not even allowing herself to be hindered by Mr. Harrison's too obvious failures to comprehend her best remarks. Helen argued that she was not engaged to the man because of his cleverness, and that when she had come to the infinite happiness towards which she was traveling so fast, she would have inspiration enough for two. She had enough for the present to keep them both happy throughout the drive, and when she returned she found that some of the neighbors had driven over to see her, and to increase her excitement by their congratulations. The Machiavellian Aunt Polly had told the news to several friends on the day before, knowing full well that it would spread during the night, and that Helen would have her first taste of triumph the next day.
And so it continued, and exactly as on the night before, the feverish excitement swept Helen on until the bedtime hour arrived. Then she went up into her room alone, to wrestle with the same dreadful specter as before.
The story of that day was the story of all that followed; Helen was destined to find that she might sweep herself away upon the wings of her ambition as often as she chose, and revel all she pleased in the thought of Mr. Harrison's wealth; but when the excitement was over, and she came to be all alone, she could think only of the one dreadful fact of the necessity of marrying him. She was paying a Faustus price for her happiness; and in the night time the price stared at her, and turned all her happiness to misery.
A state of mind such as this was so alien to Helen that it would have been strange indeed if she had sunk into it without protest and rebellion; as day after day passed, and the misery continued, her dissatisfaction with everything about her built itself into a climax; more and more plainly she was coming to see the widening of the gulf between the phantom she was pursuing and the place, where she stood. Finally there came one day, nearly a week after her engagement, when Helen was so exhausted and so wretched that she had made up her mind to remain in her room, and had withstood all her aunt's attempts to dissuade her. She had passed the morning in bed, between equally vain attempts to become interested in a book and to make up for the sleep she had missed during the night, and was just about giving up both in despair when the maid entered to say that Elizabeth wished to see her. Helen gave a start, for she knew that something must be wrong; when the woman entered she asked breathlessly what it was.
"It's about Mr. Arthur," was the hurried reply, and Helen turned paler than ever, and clutched the bedclothing in her trembling hands.
"What is it?" she cried.
"Why you know, Miss Helen," said Elizabeth, "your father wrote me to go and see him whenever I could, and I've just come from there this morning."
"And how is he?"
"He looked dreadful, but he had gotten up to-day, and he was sitting by the window when I came in. He was hardly a shadow of himself."
Helen was trembling. "You have not been to see him?" asked the woman.
"No," said Helen, faintly, "I—" and then she stopped.
"Why not?" Elizabeth inquired anxiously.
"He did not ask for me, did he?" asked the girl, scarcely able to utter the words.
"No," said the woman, "but you know, everybody told me you were engaged to a rich man—"
And Helen started forwrard with a cry. "Elizabeth!" she gasped, "you—you didn't—-!"
"Yes," said the other, "I told him." And then seeing the girl's look of terror, she stopped short. Helen stared at her for fully half a minute without uttering a word; and then the woman went on, slowly, "It was very dreadful, Miss Helen; he went almost crazy, and I was so frightened that I didn't know what I should do. Please tell me what is the matter."
Helen was still gazing dumbly at the woman, seeming not to have heard the last question. "I—I can't tell you," she said, when it was repeated again; "you ought not to have told him, Elizabeth."
"Miss Helen," cried the woman, anxiously, "you must do something! For I am sure that I know what is the matter; he loves you, and you must know it, too. And it will certainly kill him; weak as he was, he rushed out of the house, and I could not find him anywhere. Miss Helen, you must go and see him!"
The girl sat with the same look of helpless fright upon her face, and with her hands clenched tightly between her knees; the other went on talking hurriedly, but Helen scarcely heard anything after that; her mind was too full of its own thoughts. It was several minutes more before she even noticed that the woman was still insisting that she must go to see Artheur. "Please leave me now!" she cried wildly; "please leave me! I cannot explain anything,—I want to be alone!" And when the door was shut she became once more dumb and motionless, staring blankly ahead of her, a helpless victim of her own wretched thoughts.
"That is the end of it," she groaned to herself; "oh, that is the end of it!"
Winkt dir nicht hold die hehre Burg?
Thou would'st be happy, Endlessly happy, Or endlessly wretched.
Helen was quite powerless to do anything whatever after that last piece of misfortune; it seemed as if she could have remained just where she was for hours, shuddering at the sight of what was happening, yet utterly helpless before it. The world was taking a very serious aspect indeed to the bright and laughing girl, who had thought of it as the home of birds and flowers; yet she knew not what to make of the change, or how she was to blame for it, and she could only sit still and tremble. She was in the same position and the same state of mind when her aunt entered the room some minutes later.
Mrs. Roberts stood watching her silently, and then as Helen turned her gaze of pleading misery upon her, she came forward and sat down in a chair by the bedside, and fixed her keen eyes upon the girl.
"Oh, Aunt Polly!" cried Helen; "what am I to do? I am so wretched!"
"I have just been talking to Elizabeth," said Mrs. Roberts, with some sternness, "and she's been telling you about Arthur—is that what is the matter with you, Helen?"
"Yes," was the trembling response, "what can I do?"
"Tell me, Helen, in the first place," demanded the other. "When you saw Arthur that day in the woods, what did you do? Did you make him any promises?"
"Did you hold out any hopes to him? Did you say anything to him at all about love?"
"I—I told him it was impossible," said Helen, eagerly, clutching at that little crumb of comfort.
"Then in Heaven's name, child," cried the other in amazement, "what is the matter with you? If Arthur chooses to carry on in this fashion, why in the world should you punish yourself in this horrible way? What is the matter with you, Helen? Are you responsible to him for your marriage? I don't know which is the most absurd, the boy's behavior, or your worrying about it."
"But, Auntie," stammered the girl, "he is so ill—he might die!"
"Die, bosh!" exclaimed Mrs. Roberts; "he frightened Elizabeth by his ravings; it is the most absurd nonsense,—he a penniless school-teacher, and the Lord only knows what besides! I only wish I'd been there to talk to him, for I don't think he'd have frightened me! What in the world do you suppose he wants, anyway? Is he mad enough to expect you to marry him?"
"I don't know, Aunt Polly," said Helen, weakly.
"I'd never have believed that Arthur could be capable of anything so preposterous as this behavior," vowed Mrs. Roberts; "and then to come up here and find you wearing yourself to a skeleton about it!"
"It isn't only that, Auntie," protested Helen, "there is so much else; I am miserable!"
"Yes," said the other, grimly; "I see it as well as you, and there's just about as much reason in any of it as in the matter of Arthur." Then Mrs. Roberts moved her chair nearer, and after gazing at Helen for a moment, began again. "I've been meaning to say something to you, and it might just as well be said now. For all this matter is coming to a climax, Helen; it can't go on this way very much longer, for you'll kill yourself. It's got to be settled one way or the other, once and for all." And Mrs. Roberts stopped and took a deep breath, preparing for one more struggle; Helen still gazed at her helplessly.
"I'm not going to say anything more about Arthur," declared the woman; "if you choose to torment yourself about such absurdities, I can't help it. Arthur's behavior is not the least your fault, and you know it; but all the other trouble is your fault, and there's nobody else to blame. For the question is just as simple as the day, Helen, and you must see it and decide it; you've got to choose between one of two things, either to marry Mr. Harrison or to give him up; and there's no excuse for your hesitating and tormenting yourself one day longer."
Then the indomitable woman set to work at her old task of conjuring up before the girl's eyes all the allurements that had so often made her heart throb; she, pictured Fairview and all its luxuries, and the admiration and power that must be hers when she was mistress of it; and she mentioned every other source of pleasure that she knew would stir Helen's eager thirst. After having hammered away at that theme until she saw signs of the effect she desired, she turned to the other side of the picture.
"Helen," she demanded, "is it really possible for you to think of giving up these things and going back to live in that miserable little house at Oakdale? Can you not see that you would be simply burying yourself alive? You might just as well be as ugly as those horrible Nelson girls across the way. Helen, you know you belong to a different station in life than those people! You know you have a right to some of the beautiful things in the world, and you know that after this vision of everything perfect that you have seen, you can never possibly be happy in your ignorant girlish way again. You have promised Mr. Harrison to marry him, and made him go to all the expense that he has; and you've told everybody you know, and all the world is talking about your triumph; and you've had Mr. Roberts go to all the trouble he has about your trousseau,—surely, Helen, you cannot dream of changing your mind and giving all this up. It is ridiculous to talk about it."
"I don't want to give it up," protested the girl, moaning, "but, oh, I can't—"
"I know!" exclaimed the other. "I've heard all that a thousand times. Don't you see, Helen, that you've simply got to marry him! There is no other possibility to think of, and all of your weakness is that you don't perceive that fact, and make up your mind to it. Just see how absurd you are, to make yourself ill in this way."
"But I can't help it, Auntie, indeed I can't!"
"You could help it if you wanted to," vowed the other. "I am quite disgusted with you. I have told you a thousand times that this is all an imaginary terror that you are conjuring up for yourself, to ruin your health and happiness. When you have married him you will see that it's just as I tell you, and you'll laugh at yourself for feeling as you did."
"But it's in the, meantime, Aunt Polly—it's having to think about it that frightens me."
"Well, let me tell you one thing," said Mrs. Roberts; "if I found that I couldn't cure myself of such weakness as this, sooner than let it ruin my life and make everyone about me wretched, I'd settle the matter right now and forever; I'd marry him within a week, Helen!" And the resolute little woman clenched her hands grimly. "Yes, I would," she exclaimed, "and if I found I hadn't strength enough to hold my resolution, I'd marry him to-morrow, and there'd be an end to it!"
"You don't realize, Helen, how you treat Mr. Harrison," she went on, as the girl shuddered; "and how patient he is. You'd not find many men like him in that respect, my dear. For he's madly in love with you, and you treat him as coldly as if he were a stranger. I can see that, for I watch you, and I can see how it offends him. You have promised to be his wife, Helen, and yet you behave in this ridiculous way. You are making yourself ill, and you look years older every day, yet you make not the least attempt to conquer yourself."
So she went on, and Helen began to feel more and more that she was doing a very great wrong indeed. Mrs. Roberts' sharp questioning finally drew from her the story of her reception of Mr. Harrison's one kiss, and Helen was made to seem quite ridiculous and even rude in her own eyes; her aunt lectured her with such unaccustomed sternness that she was completely frightened, and came to look upon her action as the cause of all the rest of her misery.
"It's precisely on that account that you still regard him as a stranger," Mrs. Roberts vowed; "of course he makes no more advances, and you might go on forever in that way." Helen promised that the next time she was alone with Mr. Harrison she would apologize for her rudeness, and treat him in a different manner.
"I wish," Mrs. Roberts went on, "that I could only make you see as plainly as I see, Helen, how very absurd your conduct is. Day by day you are filling your mind with the thought of the triumph that is to be yours, so that it takes hold of you and becomes all your life to you; and all the time you know that to possess it there is one thing which you have got to do. And instead of realizing the fact and reconciling yourself to it, you sit down and torment yourself as if you were a creature without reason or will. Can you not see that you must be wretched?"
"Yes, I see," said Helen, weakly.
"You see it, but you make no effort to do anything else! You make me almost give you up in despair. You will not see that this weakness has only to be conquered once, and that then your life can be happy!"
"But, Auntie, dear," exclaimed Helen, "it is so hard!"
"Anything in life would be hard for a person who had no more resolution than you," responded the other. "Because you know nothing about the world, you fancy you are doing something very unusual and dreadful; but I assure you it's what every girl has to do when she marries in society. And there's no one of them but would laugh at your behavior; you just give Mr. Harrison up, and see how long it would be before somebody else would take him! Oh, child, how I wish I could give you a little of my energy; you would go to the life that is before you in a very different way, I promise you! For really the only way that you can have any happiness in the world is to be strong and take it, and if you once had a purpose and some determination you would feel like a different person. Make up your mind what you wish to do, Helen, and go and do it, and take hold of yourself and master yourself, and show what you are made of!"
Aunt Polly was quite sublime as she delivered that little exordium; and to the girl, anxious as she was for her old strength and happiness, the words were like music. They made her blood flow again, and there was a light in her eyes.
"Oh, Auntie," she said, "I'll try to."
"Try!" echoed the other, "what comes of all your trying? You have been reveling for a week in visions of what is to be yours; and that ought surely to have been enough time for you to make up your mind; and yet every time that I find you alone, all your resolution is gone; you simply have no strength, Helen!"
"Oh, I will have it!" cried the girl; "I don't mean to do this way any more; I never saw it so plainly."
"You see it now, because I'm talking to you, and you always do see it then. But I should think the very terror of what you have suffered would serve as a motive, and make you quite desperate. Can you not see that your very safety depends upon your taking this resolution and keeping it, and not letting go of it, no matter what happens? From what I've seen of you, Helen, I know that if you do not summon all your energies together, and fling aside every purpose but this, and act upon it now, while you feel it so keenly, you will surely fail. For anybody can withstand a temptation for a while, when his mind is made up; all the trouble is in keeping it made up for a long time. I tell you if I found I was losing, sooner than surrender I would do anything, absolutely anything!"
Mrs. Roberts had many more words of that heroic kind; she was a vigorous little body, and she was quite on fire with enthusiasm just then, and with zeal for the consummation of the great triumph. Perhaps there is no occupation of men quite without its poetry, and even a society leader may attain to the sublime in her devotion to life as she sees it. Besides that the over-zealous woman was exalted to eloquence just then by a feeling that she was nearer her goal than ever before, and that she had only to spur Helen on and keep her in her present glow to clinch the matter; for the girl was very much excited indeed, and showed both by what she said and by the change in her behavior that she was determined to have an end to her own wretchedness and to conquer her shrinking from her future husband at any cost. During all the time that she was dressing, her aunt was stirring her resolution with the same appeal, so that Helen felt that she had never seen her course so clearly before, or had so much resolution to follow it. She spread out her arms and drank deep breaths of relief because she was free from her misery, and knew how to keep so; and at the same time, because she still felt tremblings of fear, she clenched her hands in grim earnestness. When she was ready to descend she was flushed and trembling with excitement, and quite full of her resolution. "She won't have to go very far," Mrs. Roberts mused, "for the man is madly in love with her."
"I want you to look as beautiful as you can, dear," she said aloud, by way of changing the subject; "besides Mr. Harrison, there'll be another visitor at lunch to-day."
"A stranger?" echoed Helen.
"You remember, dear, when I told you of Mr. Howard I spoke of a third person who was coming—Lieutenant Maynard?"
"Oh, yes," said the girl; "is he here?"
"Just until the late train this evening," answered the other. "He got his leave as he expected, but of course he didn't want to come while Mr. Howard was so ill."
Helen remembered with a start having heard someone say that Mr. Howard was better. "Auntie," she cried, "he won't be at lunch, will he? I don't want to see him."
"He won't, dear," was the reply; "the doctor said he could leave his room to-day, but it will be afterwards, when you have gone driving with Mr. Harrison."
"And will he leave soon?" asked Helen, shuddering; the mention of the invalid's name had instantly brought to her mind the thought of Arthur.
"He will leave to-morrow, I presume; he probably knows he has caused us trouble enough," answered Mrs. Roberts; and then reading Helen's thought, and seeing a sign upon her face of the old worry, she made haste to lead her down the stairs.
Helen found Mr. Harrison in conversation with a tall, distinguished-looking man in naval uniform, to whom she was introduced by her aunt; the girl saw that the officer admired her, which was only another stimulant to her energies, so that she was at her cleverest during the meal that followed. She accepted the invitation of Mr. Harrison to go with him to Fairview during the afternoon, and after having been in her room all the morning, she was looking forward to the drive with no little pleasure, as also—to the meeting with the architect whom Mr. Harrison said would be there.
It seemed once as if the plan were to be interrupted, and as if her excitement and resolution were to come to naught, for a telegram arrived for Mr. Harrison, and he announced that he was called away to New York upon some business. But as it proved, this was only another circumstance to urge her on in carrying out her defiant resolution, for Mr. Harrison added that he would not have to leave until the evening, and her aunt gazed at the girl significantly, to remind her of how little time there was. Helen felt her heart give a sudden leap, and felt a disagreeable trembling seize upon her; her animation became more feverish yet in consequence.
After the luncheon, when she ran up for her hat and gloves, her aunt followed her, but Helen shook her off with a laughing assurance that everything would be all right, and then ran out into the hallway; she did not go on, however, for something that she saw caused her to spring quickly back, and turn pale.
"What is it?" whispered her aunt, as Helen put her finger to her lips.
"It's he!" replied the girl, shuddering; "wait!"
"He" was the unfortunate invalid, who was passing down the hallway upon the arm of Lieutenant Maynard; Helen shook her head at all her aunt's laughing protests, and could not be induced to leave the room until the two had passed on; then she ran down, and leaving the house by another door, sprang into the carriage with Mr. Harrison and was whirled away, waving a laughing good-by to her aunt.
The fresh air and the swift motion soon completed the reaction from Helen's morning unhappiness; and as generally happened when she was much excited, her imagination carried her away in one of her wild flights of joy, so that her companion was as much lost as ever in admiration and delight. Helen told him countless stories, and made countless half-comprehended witticisms, and darted a great many mischievous glances which were comprehended much better; when they had passed within the gates of Fairview, being on private land she felt even less need of restraint, and sang "Dich, theure Halle, gruss' ich wieder!" and laughed at her own cleverness quite as much as if her companion had understood it all.
After that it was a new delight to discover that work was progressing rapidly upon the trimming of the forest and the turning of the grass-grown road into a broad avenue; likewise the "hay crop" was in, and the lawn plowed and raked and ready for grass seed, and the undesirable part of the old furniture carted away,—all of which things Helen knew had been done according to her commands. And scarcely had all this been appreciated properly before the architect arrived; Helen was pleased with him because for one thing he was evidently very much impressed by her beauty, and for another because he entered so understandingly into all her ideas. He and the girl spent a couple of the happiest hours in discussing the details of the wonderful music room, a thing which seemed to her more full of delightful possibilities than any other in all her radiant future; it was a sort of a child's dream to her, with a fairy godmother to make it real, and her imagination ran riot in a vision of banks of flowers, and of paintings of all things that embody the joys of music, the "shapes that haunt thought's wildernesses." At night the whole was to be illuminated in such a way as to give these verisimilitude, and in the daytime it would be no less beautiful, because it was to be almost all glass upon two sides. Helen was rejoiced that the architect realized the importance of the fact that "a music room ought to be out of doors;" and then as she made the further welcome discovery that the moon would shine into it, she vowed eagerly that there would be no lights at all in her music room at those times. Afterwards she told a funny story of how Schumann had been wont to improvise under such circumstances, until his next-door neighbor was so struck by the romance of it that he proceeded to imitate it, and to play somebody or other's technical studies whenever the moon rose; at which narrative Helen and the architect laughed very heartily, and Mr. Harrison with them, though he would not have known the difference between a technical study and the "Moonlight Sonata."
Altogether, Helen was about as happy as ever throughout that afternoon, tho one who watched her closely might have thought there was something nervous about her animation, especially later on, when the talk with the architect was nearing its end; Helen's eyes had once or twice wandered uneasily about the room, and when finally the man rose to leave, she asked him with a sudden desperate resolution to look over the rest of the rooms and see what he thought of her suggestions. The latter expressed himself as pleased to oblige her, but he would probably have been somewhat chagrined had he known how little Helen really attended to his remarks; her mind was in a whirl, and all that he said sounded distant and vague; her one wish was that he might stay and give her time to think.
But Helen found the uselessness of shrinking, and the time came at last when she saw to her despair that there was no more to say, and that the man must go. In a few minutes more he was actually gone, and she was left all alone in the great house with Mr. Harrison.
The two went back into the dining room, where Mr. Harrison stood leaning his hand upon the table, and Helen stood in front of him, her lips trembling. Twice she made a faint attempt to speak, and then she turned and began pacing up and down the room in agitation. Mr. Harrison was watching her, seeing that there was something on her mind, and also that her emotion made her more beautiful and more disturbing to him than ever.
At last Helen went and sat down upon a sofa at one side, and clenching her hands very tightly about her knees, looked up at him and said, in a faint voice, "I had something to say to you, Mr. Harrison." Then she stopped, and her eyes fell, and her breath came very hard.
"What is it, dear?" asked Mr. Harrison gently.
And Helen's lips trembled more than ever, and her voice sank still lower as she said, "I—I don't know how to begin."
The other was silent for a few moments more, after which he came slowly across the room and sat down beside her.
"Helen," he said, "I had something to say to you also; suppose I say it first?"
The girl's chest was heaving painfully, and her heart throbbing violently, but she gazed into his eyes, and smiled, and answered him "Very well." He took one of her burning hands in his, and she made no resistance.
"Helen, dear," he said, "do you remember it was nearly a week ago that we stood in this same room, and that you promised to be my wife? You were very cold to me then. I have been waiting patiently for you to change a little, not venturing to say anything for fear of offending you. But it is very hard—"
He had bent forward pleadingly, and his face was very close to hers, trying to read her heart. Perhaps it was well that he could not, for it would have frightened him. The moment was one of fearful suffering for Helen, tho there was no sign of it, except that she was trembling like a leaf, and that her lips were white. There was just a moment of suspense, and then with a cruel effort she mastered herself and gazed up at the man, a smile forcing itself to her lips again.
"What is it that you wish?" she asked.
"I want you to care for me," the other said—"to love me just a little, Helen; will you?"
"I—I think so," was the reply, in a scarcely audible voice.
And Mr. Harrison pressed her hand in his and bent forward eagerly. "Then I may kiss you, dear?" he asked; "you will not mind?"
And Helen bowed her head and answered, "No." In this same instant, as she sank forward the man clasped her in his arms; he pressed her upon his bosom, and covered her cheeks and forehead with his passionate, burning kisses. Helen, crushed and helpless in his grasp, felt a revulsion of feeling so sudden and so overwhelming that it was an agony to her, and she almost screamed aloud. She was choking and shuddering, and her cheeks were on fire, while in the meantime Mr. Harrison, almost beside himself with passion, pressed her tighter to him and poured out his protestations of devotion. Helen bore it until she was almost mad with the emotion that had rushed over her, and then she made a wild effort to tear herself free. Her hair was disordered, and her face red, and her whole being throbbing with shame, but he still held her in his tight embrace.
"You are not angry, Helen dear?" he asked.
"No," the girl gasped
"You told me that I might kiss you," he said; and she was so choking with her emotion that she could not answer a word, she could only shudder and submit to his will. And Mr. Harrison, supposing that her emotions were very different from what they were, rested her head upon his shoulder, smoothing back her tangled hair and whispering into her ear how beautiful she was beyond any dream of his, and how the present moment was the happiest of his lifetime.
"I thought it would never come, dear," he said, kissing her forehead again, "you were so very cold." Helen had not yet ceased fighting the fearful battle in her own heart, and so as he looked into her eyes, she gazed up at him and forced another ghastly smile to her lips: they looked so very beautiful that Mr. Harrison kissed them again and again, and he would probably have been content to kiss them many times more, and to forget everything else in the bliss, had Helen been willing.
But she felt just then that if the strain continued longer she would go mad; with a laugh that was half hysterical, she tore herself loose by main force, and sprang up, reminding the other that he had a train to catch. Mr. Harrison demurred, but the girl would hear no more, and she took him by the hand and led him to the door, still laughing, and very much flushed and excited, so that he thought she was happier than ever. It would have startled him could he have seen her as he went to call for the horses,—how she staggered and clung to a pillar for support, as white as the marble she leaned against.
He did not see her, however, and when the two were driving rapidly away she was as vivacious as ever; Helen had fought yet one more conflict, and her companion was not skilled enough in the study of character to perceive that it was a desperate and hysterical kind of animation. Poor Helen was facing gigantic shadows just then, and life wore its most fearful and menacing look to her; she had plunged so far in her contest that it was now a battle for life and death, and with no quarter. She had made the choice of "Der Atlas," of endless joy or endless sorrow, and in her struggle to keep the joy she was becoming more and more frantic, more and more terrified at the thought of the other possibility. She knew that to fail now would mean shame and misery more overwhelming than she could bear, and so she was laughing and talking with frenzied haste; and every now and then she would stop and shudder, and then race wildly on,—
"Like one, that on a lonesome road Doth walk in fear and dread, And having once turned round walks on, And turns no more his head; Because he knows a frightful fiend Doth close behind him tread."
And so all through the ride, because the girl's shame and fear haunted her more and more, she became more and more hysterical, and more and more desperate; and Mr. Harrison thought that he had never seen her so brilliant, and so daring, and so inspired; nor did he have the least idea how fearfully overwrought she was, until suddenly as they came to a fork in the road he took a different one than she expected, and she clutched him wildly by the arm. "Why do you do that?" she almost screamed. "Stop!"
"What?" he asked in surprise. "Take this road?"
"Yes!" exclaimed Helen. "Stop! Stop!"
"But it's only half a mile or so farther," said Mr. Harrison, reining up his horses, "and I thought you'd like the change."
"Yes," panted Helen, with more agitation than ever. "But I can't,—we'd have to go through Hilltown!"
The wondering look of course did not leave the other's face at that explanation. "You object to Hilltown?" he asked.
"Yes," said Helen, shuddering; "it is a horrible place."
"Why, I thought it was a beautiful town," laughed he. "But of course it is for you to say." Then he gazed about him to find a place to turn the carriage. "We'll have to go on a way," he said. "The road is too narrow here. I'm sorry I didn't ask you, but I had no idea it made any difference."
They continued, however, for fully a mile, and the road remained narrow, so that there was danger of upsetting in the ditch if they tried to turn. "What do you wish me to do?" Mr. Harrison asked with a smile. "The more we go on the longer it will take us if we are to go back, and I may miss my train; is your prejudice against Hilltown so very strong, Miss Davis?"
"Oh, no," Helen answered, with a ghastly smile. "Pray go on; it's of no consequence."
As a matter of fact, it was of the greatest consequence; for that incident marked the turning point of the battle in Helen's heart. Her power seemed to go from her with every turn of the wheels that brought her nearer to that dreaded place, and she became more and more silent, and more conscious of the fearful fact that her wretchedness was mastering her again. It seemed to her terrified imagination as if everything was growing dark and threatening, as before the breaking of a thunderstorm.
"You must indeed dislike Hilltown, Miss Davis," said her companion, smiling. "Why are you so very silent?"
Helen made no reply; she scarcely heard him, in fact, so taken up was she with what was taking place in her own mind; all her thoughts then were about Arthur and what had become of him, and what he was thinking about her; and chiefest of all, because her cheeks and forehead had a fearfully conscious feeling, what he would think, could he know what she had just been doing. Thus it was that as the houses of Hilltown drew near, remorse and shame and terror were rising, and her frantic protests against them were weakening, until suddenly every emotion was lost in suspense, and the shadows of the great elm-trees that arched the main street of the town closed them in. Helen knew the house where Arthur lodged, and knew that she should pass it in another minute; she could do nothing but wait and watch and tremble.
The carriage rattled on, gazed at by many curious eyes, for everyone in Hilltown knew about the young beauty and the prize she had caught; but Helen saw no one, and had eyes for only one thing, the little white house where Arthur lodges. The carriage swept by and she saw no one, but she saw that the curtain of Arthur's room was drawn, and she shuddered at the thought, "Suppose he should be dying!" Yet it was a great load off her mind to have escaped seeing him, and she was beginning to breathe again and ask herself if she still might not win the battle, when the carriage came to the end of the town, and to a sight that froze her blood.
There was a tavern by the roadside, a low saloon that was the curse of the place, and she saw from the distance a figure come out of the door. Her heart gave a fearful throb, for it was a slender figure, clad in black, hatless and with disordered hair and clothing. In a moment more, as Helen clutched the rail beside her and stared wildly, the carriage had swept on and come opposite the man; and he glanced up into Helen's eyes, and she recognized the face, in spite of all its ghastly whiteness and its sunken cheeks; it was Arthur!
There was just an instant's meeting of their looks, and then the girl was whirled on; but that one glance was enough to leave her as if paralyzed. She made no sound, nor any movement, and so her companion did not even know that anything had happened until they had gone half a mile farther; then as he chanced to glance at her he reined up his horses with a cry.
"Helen!" he exclaimed. "What is the matter?" The girl clutched his arm so tightly that he winced, powerful man that he was. "Take me home," she gasped. "Oh, quick, please take me home!"
"Peace! Sit you down, And let me wring your heart; for so I shall, If it be made of penetrable stuff."
Helen ran up to her room when she reached home, and shut herself in, and after that she had nothing to do but suffer. All of her excitement was gone from her then, and with it every spark of her strength; the fiends that had been pursuing her rose up and seized hold of her, and lashed her until she writhed and cried aloud in agony. She was helpless to resist them, knowing not which way to turn or what to do,—completely cowed and terrified. But there was no more sinking into the dull despair that had mastered her before; the face of Arthur, as she had seen it in that one glimpse, had been burned into her memory with fire, and she could not shut it from her sight; when the fact that he had come from the tavern, and what that must mean rose before her, it was almost more than she could bear, cry out as she might that she could not help it, that she never could have helped it, that she had nothing to do with it. Moreover, if there was any possibility of the girl's driving out that specter, there was always another to take its place. It was not until she was alone in her room, until all her resolution was gone, and all of her delusions, that she realized the actual truth about what she had done that afternoon; it was like a nightmare to her then. She seemed always to feel the man's arms clasping her, and whenever she thought of his kisses her forehead burned her like fire, so that she flung herself down by the bedside, and buried it in the pillows.
It was thus that her aunt found her when she came in to call Helen to dinner; and this time the latter's emotions were so real and so keen that there was no prevailing over them, or persuading her to anything. "I don't want to eat!" she cried again and again in answer to her aunt's alarmed insistence. "No, I am not coming down! I want to be alone! Alone, Aunt Polly—please leave me alone!"
"But, Helen," protested Mrs. Roberts, "won't you please tell me what is the matter? What in the world can have happened to you?"
"I can't tell you," the girl cried hysterically. "I want you to go and leave me alone!" And she shut the door and locked it, and then began pacing wildly up and down the room, heedless of the fact that her aunt was still standing out in the hallway; the girl was too deeply shaken just then to have any thought about appearances.
She was thinking about Arthur again, and about his fearful plight; there rushed back upon her all the memories of their childhood, and of the happiness which they had known together. The thought of the broken figure which she had seen by the roadside became more fearful to her every moment. It was not that it troubled her conscience, for Helen could still argue to herself that she had done nothing to wrong her friend, that there had been nothing selfish in her attitude towards him; she had wished him to be happy. It seemed to her that it was simply a result of the cruel perversity of things that she had been trampling upon her friend's happiness in order to reach her own, and that all her struggling had only served to make things worse. The fact that it was not her fault, however, did not make the situation seem less tragic and fearful to her; it had come to such a crisis now that it drove her almost mad to think about it, yet she was completely helpless to know what to do, and as she strode up and down the room, she clasped her hands to her aching head and cried aloud in her perplexity.
Then too her surging thoughts hurried on to another unhappiness,—to her father, and what he would say when he learned the dreadful news. How could she explain it to him? And how could she tell him about her marriage? At the mere thought of that the other horror seized upon her again, and she sank down in a chair by the window and hid her face in her hands.
"Oh, how can I have done it?" she gasped to herself. "Oh, it was so dreadful! And what am I to do now?"
That last was the chief question, the one to which all others led; yet it was one to which she could find no answer. She was completely confused and helpless, and she exclaimed aloud again and again, "Oh, if I could only find some one to tell me! I do not know how I can keep Arthur from behaving in that dreadful way, and I know that I cannot ever marry Mr. Harrison!"
The more she tortured herself with these problems, the more agitated she became. She sat there at the window, clutching the sill in her hands and staring out, seeing nothing, and knowing only that the time was flying, and that her anxiety was building itself up and becoming an agony which she could not bear.
"Oh, what am I to do?" she groaned again and again; and she passed hours asking herself the fearful question; the twilight had closed about her, and the moon had risen behind the distant hills.
So oblivious to all things about her was she, that she failed at first to notice something else, something which would ordinarily have attracted her attention at once,—a sound of music which came to her from somewhere near. It was the melody of Grieg's "An den Frubling" played upon a violin, and it had stolen into Helen's heart and become part of her own stormy emotion before she had even thought of what it was or whence it came. The little piece is the very soul of the springtime passion, and to the girl it was the very utterance of all her yearning, lifting her heart in a great throbbing prayer. When it had died away her hands were clenched very tightly, and her breath was coming fast.
She remained thus for a minute, forgetful of everything; then at last she found herself thinking "it must be Mr. Howard," and waiting to see if he would play again. But he did not do so, and Helen sat in silence for a long time, her thoughts turned to him. She found herself whispering "so he is a wonderful musician after all," and noticing that the memory of his wan face frightened her no longer; it seemed just then that there could be no one in the world more wretched than herself. She was only wishing that he would begin again, for that utterance of her grief had seemed like a victory, and now in the silence she was sinking back into her despair. The more she waited, the more impatient she grew, until suddenly she rose from her seat.
"He might play again if I asked him," she said to herself. "He would if he knew I was unhappy; I wonder where he can be?"
Helen's window was in the front of the house, opening upon a broad lawn whose walks were marked in the moonlight by the high shrubbery that lined them. Some distance beyond, down one of the paths, were two summer-houses, and it seemed to her that the music had come from one of them, probably the far one, for it had sounded very soft. No sooner had the thought come to her than she turned and went quietly to the door. She ran quickly down the steps, and seeing her aunt and Mr. Roberts upon the piazza, she turned and passed out by one of the side doors.
Helen had yielded to a sudden impulse in doing thus, drawn by her yearning for the music. When she thought about it as she walked on it seemed to her a foolish idea, for the man could not possibly know of her trouble, and moreover was probably with his friend the lieutenant. But she did not stop even then, for her heart's hunger still drove her on, and she thought, "I'll see, and perhaps he will play again without my asking; I can sit in the near summer-house and wait."
She went swiftly on with that purpose in mind, not going upon the path, because she would have been in the full moonlight, and in sight of the two upon the piazza. She passed silently along by the high hedge, concealed in its shadows, and her footsteps deadened by the grass. She was as quiet as possible, wishing to be in the summer-house without anyone's knowing it.
And she had come very close to it indeed, within a few yards, when suddenly she stopped short with an inward exclamation; the silence of the twilight had been broken by a voice—one that seemed almost beside her, and that startled her with a realization of the mistake she had made. The two men were themselves in the house to which she had been going.
It was Mr. Howard's voice which she heard; he was speaking very low, almost in a whisper, yet Helen was near enough to hear every word that he uttered.
"Most people would think it simply a happy and beautiful piece of music," he said. "Most people think that of the springtime; but when a man has lived as I, he may find that the springtime too is a great labor and a great suffering,—he does not forget that for the thousands of creatures that win the great fight and come forth rejoicing, there are thousands and tens of thousands that go down, and have their mite of life crushed out, and find the law very stern indeed. Even those that win do it by a fearful effort, and cannot keep their beauty long; so that the springtime passion takes on a kind of desperate intensity when one thinks of it."
The voice ceased again for a moment, and Helen stood gazing about her; the words were not without a dimly-felt meaning to her just then, and the tone of the man's voice seemed like the music she had heard him play. She would have liked to stay and listen, tho she knew that she had no right to. She was certain that she had not been seen, because the little house was thickly wrapped about with eglantine; and she stood, uncertain as to whether she ought to steal back or go out and join the two men. In the meantime the voice began again: