Part 4 out of 6
days and nights that I have spent in tossing upon a bed of fire, she
might find the cup of her selfishness a trifle less pleasant to
drink. It is something that I have noticed with people, that they
may be coarse or shallow enough to laugh at virtue and earnestness,
but there are very few who do not bow their heads before suffering.
For that is something physical; and they may harden their conscience
if they please, but from the possibility of bodily pain they know
that they can never be safe; and they seem to know that a man who
has walked with that demon has laid his hand upon the grim reality
of things, before which their shams and vanities shrink into
nothingness. The sight of it is always a kind of warning of the
seriousness of life, and so even when people feel no sympathy, they
cannot but feel fear; I saw for instance, that the first time this
girl saw me she turned pale, and she would not come anywhere near
As the speaker paused again, Lieutenant Maynard said, very quietly:
"I should think that would be a hard cross to bear, David."
"No," said Mr. Howard, with a slight smile, "I had not that thought
in my mind. I have seen too much of the reality of life to trouble
myself or the the world with vanity of that very crude kind; I can
sometimes imagine myself being proud of my serenity, but that is one
step beyond at any rate. A man who lives in his soul very seldom
thinks of himself in an external way; when I look in the glass it is
generally to think how strange it is that this form of mine should
be that which represents me to men, and I cannot find anything they
might really learn about me, except the one physical fact of
"They can certainly not fail to learn that," said the other.
"Yes," replied Mr. Howard sadly, "I know, if any man does, what it
is to earn one's life by suffering and labor. That is why I have so
mastering a sense of life's preciousness, and why I cannot reconcile
myself to this dreadful fact of wealth. It is the same thing, too,
that makes me feel so keenly about this girl and her beauty, and
keeps her in my thoughts. I don't think I could tell you how the
sight of her affected me, unless you knew how I have lived all these
lonely years. For I have had no friends and no strength for any of
the world's work, and all my battle has been with my own soul, to be
brave and to keep my self-command through all my trials; I think my
illness has acted as a kind of nervous stimulus upon me, as if it
were only by laboring to dwell upon the heights of my being night
and day that I could have strength to stand against despair. The
result is that I have lived for days in a kind of frenzy of effort,
with all my faculties at white heat; and it has always been the
artist's life, it has always been beauty that brought me the joy
that I needed, and given me the strength to go on. Beauty is the
sign of victory, and the prize of it, in this heart's battle; the
more I have suffered and labored, the more keenly I have come to
feel that, until the commonest flower has a song for me. And
William, the time I saw this girl she wore a rose in her hair, but
she was so perfect that I scarcely saw the flower; there is that in
a man's heart which makes it that to him the fairest and most sacred
of God's creatures must always be the maiden. When I was young, I
walked about the earth half drunk with a dream of love; and even
now, when I am twice as old as my years, and burnt out and dying, I
could not but start when I saw this girl. For I fancied that she
must carry about in that maiden's heart of hers some high notion of
what she meant in the world, and what was due to her. When a man
gazes upon beauty such as hers, there is a feeling that comes to him
that is quite unutterable, a feeling born of all the weakness and
failure and sin of his lifetime. For every true man's life is a
failure; and this is the vision that he sought with so much pain,
the thing that might have been, had he kept the faith with his own
genius. It is so that beauty is the conscience of the artist; and
that there must always be something painful and terrible about high
perfection. It was that way that I felt when I saw this girl's face,
and I dreamt my old dream of the sweetness and glory of a maiden's
heart. I thought of its spotlessness and of its royal scorn of
baseness; and I tell you, William, if I had found it thus I could
have been content to worship and not even ask that the girl look at
me. For a man, when he has lived as I have lived, can feel towards
anything more perfect than himself a quite wonderful kind of
humility; I know that all the trouble with my helpless struggling is
that I must be everything to myself, and cannot find anything to
love, and so be at peace. That was the way I felt when I saw this
Miss Davis, all that agitation and all that yearning; and was it not
enough to make a man mock at himself, to learn the real truth? I was
glad that it did not happen to me when I was young and dependent
upon things about me; is it not easy to imagine how a young man
might make such a woman the dream of his life, how he might lay all
his prayer at her feet, and how, when he learned of her fearful
baseness, it might make of him a mocking libertine for the rest of
"You think it baseness?" asked Lieutenant Maynard.
"I tried to persuade myself at first that it must be only blindness;
I wondered to myself, 'Can she not see the difference between the
life of these people about her and the music and poetry her aunt
tells me she loves?' I never waste any of my worry upon the old and
hardened of these vulgar and worldly people; it is enough for me to
know why the women are dull and full of gossip, and to know how much
depth there is in the pride and in the wisdom of the men. But it was
very hard for me to give up my dream of the girl's purity; I
rememher I thought of Heine's 'Thou art as a flower,' and my heart
was full of prayer. I wondered if it might not be possible to tell
her that one cannot combine music and a social career, and that one
cannot really buy happiness with sin; I thought that perhaps she
might be grateful for the warning that in cutting herself off from
the great deepening experience of woman she was consigning herself
to stagnation and wretchedness from which no money could ever
purchase her ransom; I thought that possibly she did not see that
this man knew nothing of her preciousness and had no high thoughts
about her beauty. That was the way I argued with myself about her
innocence, and you may fancy the kind of laughter that came over me
at the truth. It is a ghastly thing, William, the utter hardness,
the grim and determined worldliness, of this girl. For she knew very
well what she was doing, and all the ignorance was on my part. She
had no care about anything in the world until that man came in, and
the short half hour that I watched them was enough to tell her that
her life's happiness was won. But only think of her, William, with
all her God-given beauty, allowing herself to be kissed by him! Try
to fancy what new kind of fiendishness must lie in her heart! I
remember that she is to marry him because he pays her millions, and
the word prostitution keeps haunting my memory; when I try to define
it, I find that the millions do not alter it in the least. That is a
very cruel thought,--a thought that drives away everything but the
prayer--and I sit and wonder what fearful punishment the hand of
Fate will deal out for such a thing as that, what hatefulness it
will stamp upon her for a sign to men. And then because the perfect
face still haunts my memory, I have a very Christ-like feeling
indeed,--that I could truly die to save that girl from such a
There was another long silence, and then suddenly, Mr. Howard rose
from his seat. "William," he said in a different voice, "it is all
useless, so why should we talk so? The girl has to live her own life
and learn these things for herself. And in the meantime, perhaps I
am letting myself be too much moved by her beauty, for there are
many people in the world who are not beautiful, but who suffer
things they do not deserve to suffer, and who really deserve our
sympathy and help."
"I fancy you'd not be much thanked for it in this case," said the
other, with a dry laugh.
Mr. Howard stood for some moments in silence, and then turned away
to end the conversation. "I fear," he said, "that I have kept you
more than I have any right to. Let us go back to the house; it is
not very polite to our hostess to stay so long."
"It must be nearly time for my train, anyhow," said the officer, and
a moment later the two had passed out of the summer-house and up the
path, Lieutenant Maynard carrying Mr. Howard's violin-case in his
The two did not see Helen as they passed her; the reason was that
Helen was stretched out upon the ground by the side of the hedge. It
was not that she was hiding,--she had no thought of that; it was
because she had been struck there by the scathing words that she had
heard. Some of them were so bitter that they could only have filled
her with rage had she not known that they were true, and had she not
been awed by what she had learned of this man's heart. She could
feel only terror and fiery shame, and the cruel words had beaten her
down, first upon her knees, and then upon her face, and they lashed
her like whips of flame and tore into her flesh and made her writhe.
She dared not cry out, or even sob; she could only dig into the
ground with her quivering fingers, and lie there, shuddering in a
fearful way. Long after the two men were gone her cruel punishment
still continued, for she still seemed to hear his words, seared into
her memory with fire as they had been. What Mr. Howard had said had
come like a flash of lightning in the darkness to show her actions
as they really were; the last fearful sentences which she had heard
had set all her being aflame, and the thought of Mr. Harrison's
embraces filled her now with a perfect spasm of shame and loathing.
"I sold myself to him for money!" she panted. "Oh, God, for money!"
But then suddenly she raised herself up and stared about her, crying
out, half-hysterically, "No, no, it is not true! It is not true! I
could never have done it--I should have gone mad!" And a moment
later Helen had staggered to her feet. "I must tell him," she
gasped. "He must not think so of me!"
Mr. Howard had come to her as a vision from a higher world, making
all that she had known and admired seem hideous and base; and her
one thought just then was of him. "He will still scorn me," she
thought, "but I must tell him I really did suffer." And heedless of
the fact that her hair was loose about her shoulders and her dress
wet with the dew of the grass, the girl ran swiftly up the lawn
towards the house, whispering again and again, "I must tell him!"
It was only a minute more before she was near the piazza, and could
see the people upon it as they stood in the lighted doorway. Mr.
Howard was one of them, and Helen would have rushed blindly up to
speak to him, had it not been that another thought came to her to
"Suppose he should know of Arthur!" she muttered, clenching her
hands until the nails cut her flesh. "Oh, what would he think then?
And what could I tell him?" And she shrank back into the darkness,
like a black and guilty thing. She crept around the side of the
house and entered by another door, stealing into one of the darkened
parlors, where she flung herself down upon a sofa and lay trembling
before that new terror. When a few minutes had passed and she heard
a carriage outside, she sprang up wildly, with the thought that he
might be going. She had run half way to the door before she
recollected that the carriage must be for the lieutenant, and then
she stopped and stood still in the darkness, twisting her hands
together nervously and asking herself what she could do.
It occurred to her that she could look down the piazza from the
window of the room, and so she went swiftly to it. The officer was
just descending to the carriage, Mr. Roberts with him, and her aunt
and Mr. Howard standing at the top of the steps, the latter's figure
clearly outlined in the moonlight. Helen's heart was so full of
despair and yearning just then that she could have rushed out and
flung herself at his feet, had he been alone; but she felt a new
kind of shrinking from her aunt. She stood hesitating, therefore,
muttering to herself, "I must let him know about it somehow, and he
will tell me what to do. Oh, I MUST! And I must tell him now, before
it is too late!"
She stood by the window, panting and almost choking with her
emotion, kneading her hands one upon the other in frenzied
agitation; and then she heard Mr. Howard say to her aunt, "I shall
have to ask you to excuse me now, for I must not forget that I am an
invalid." And Helen clutched her burning temples, seeing him turn to
enter the house, and seeing that her chance was going. She glanced
around her, almost desperate, and then suddenly her heart gave a
great leap, for just beside her was something that had brought one
resource to her mind. She had seen the piano in the dim light, and
had thought suddenly of the song that Mr. Howard had mentioned.
"He will remember!" she thought swiftly, as she ran to the
instrument and sat down before it. With a strength born of her
desperation she mastered the quivering of her hands, and catching
her breath, began in a weak and trembling voice the melody of
"Thou art as a flower,
So pure and fair thou art;
I gaze on thee, and sorrow
Doth steal into my heart.
"I would lay my hands upon thee,
Upon thy snowy brow,
And pray that God might keep thee
So pure and fair as now."
Helen did not know how she was singing, she thought only of telling
her yearning and her pain; she was so choked with emotion that she
could scarcely utter a sound at all, and the song must have startled
those who heard it. It was laden with all the tears that had been
gathering in Helen's heart for days.
She did not finish the song; she was thinking, "Will he understand?"
She stopped suddenly as she saw a shadow upon the porch outside,
telling her that Mr Howard had come nearer. There was a minute or so
of breathless suspense and then, as the shadow began to draw slowly
backwards, Helen clenched her hands convulsively, whispering to
herself, "He will think it was only an accident! Oh, what can I do?"
There are some people all of whose emotions take the form of music;
there came into Helen's mind at that instant a melody that was the
very soul of her agitation and her longing--MacDowell's "To a Water
Lily;" the girl thought of what Mr. Howard had said about the
feeling that comes to suffering mortals at the sight of something
perfect and serene, and she began playing the little piece, very
softly, and with trembling hands.
It is quite wonderful music; to Helen with her heart full of grief
and despair, the chords that floated so cold and white and high were
almost too much to be borne. She played desperately on, however,
because she saw that Mr. Howard had stopped again, and she did not
believe that he could fail to understand that music.
So she continued until she came to the pleading song of the swan.
The music is written to a poem of Geibel's which tells of the
snow-white lily, and of the bird which wonders at its beauty;
afterwards, because there is nothing in all nature more cold and
unapproachable than a water-lily, and because one might sing to it
all day and never fancy that it heard him, the first melody rises
again, as keen and as high as ever, and one knows that his yearning
is in vain, and that there is nothing for him but his old despair.
When Helen came to that she could go no farther, for her
wretchedness had been heaping itself up, and her heart was bursting.
Her fingers gave way as she struck the keys, and she sank down and
hid her face in her arms, and broke into wild and passionate
sobbing. She was almost choking with her pent-up emotions, so shaken
that she was no longer conscious of what went on about her. She did
not hear Mr. Howard's voice, as he entered, and she did not even
hear the frightened exclamations of her aunt, until the latter had
flung her arms about her. Then she sprang up and tore herself loose
by main force, rushing upstairs and locking herself in her own room,
where she flung herself down upon the bed and wept until she could
weep no more, in the meantime not even hearing her aunt's voice from
the hallway, and altogether unconscious of the flight of time.
When she sat up and brushed away her tangled hair and gazed about
her, everything in the house was silent. She herself was exhausted,
but she rose, and after pacing up and down the room a few minutes,
seated herself at the writing desk, and in spite of her trembling
fingers, wrote a short note to Mr. Gerald Harrison; then with a deep
breath of relief, she rose, and going to the window knelt down in
front of it and gazed out.
The moon was high in the sky by that time, and the landscape about
her was flooded with its light. Everything was so calm and still
that the girl held her breath as she watched it; but suddenly she
gave a start, for she heard the sound of a violin again, so very
faint that she at first thought she was deluding herself. As she
listened, however, she heard it more plainly, and then she realized
in a flash that Mr. Howard must have heard her long-continued
sobbing, and that he was playing something for her. It was
Schumann's "Traumerei;" and as the girl knelt there her soul was
borne away upon the wings of that heavenly melody, and there welled
up in her heart a new and very different emotion from any that she
had ever known before; it was born, half of the music, and half of
the calm and the stillness of the night,--that wonderful peace which
may come to mortals either in victory or defeat, when they give up
their weakness and their fear, and become aware of the Infinite
Presence. When the melody had died away, and Helen rose, there was a
new light in her eyes, and a new beauty upon her countenance, and
she knew that her soul was right at last.
"Our acts our angels are, or good or ill,
Our fatal shadows that walk by us still."
Naturally there was considerable agitation in the Roberts family on
account of Helen's strange behavior; early the next morning Mrs.
Roberts was at her niece's door, trying to gain admittance. This
time she did not have to knock but once, and when she entered she
was surprised to see that Helen was already up and dressing. She had
been expecting to find the girl more prostrated than ever, and so
the discovery was a great relief to her; she stood gazing at her
"Helen, dear," she said, "I scarcely know how to begin to talk to
you about your extraordinary--"
"I wish," interrupted Helen, "that you would not begin to talk to me
about it at all."
"But you must explain to me what in the world is the matter,"
protested the other.
"I cannot possibly explain to you," was the abrupt reply. Helen's
voice was firm, and there was a determined look upon her face, a
look which quite took her aunt by surprise.
"But, my dear girl!" she began once more.
"Aunt Polly!" said the other, interrupting her again, "I wish
instead of talking about it you would listen to what I have to say
for a few moments. For I have made up my mind just what I am going
to do, and I am going to take the reins in my own hands and not do
any arguing or explaining to anyone. And there is no use of asking
me a word about what has happened, for I could not hope to make you
understand me, and I do not mean to try."
As Helen uttered those words she fixed her eyes upon her aunt with
an unflinching gaze, with the result that Mrs. Roberts was quite too
much taken aback to find a word to say.
Without waiting for anything more Helen turned to the table. "Here
is a letter," she said, "which I have written to Mr. Harrison; you
know his address in New York, I suppose?"
"His address?" stammered the other; "why,--yes, of course. But what
in the world--"
"I wish this letter delivered to him at once, Aunt Polly," Helen
continued. "It is of the utmost importance, and I want you to do me
the favor to send someone into the city with it by the next train."
"But, Helen, dear--"
"Now please do not ask me anything about it," went on the girl,
impatiently. "I have told you that you must let me manage this
affair myself. If you will not send it I shall simply have to get
someone to take it. He must have it, and have it at once."
"Will it not do to mail it, Helen?"
"No, because I wish him to get it this morning." And Helen put the
letter into her aunt's hands, while the latter gazed helplessly,
first at it, and then at the girl. There is an essay of Bacon's in
which is set forth the truth that you can bewilder and master anyone
if you are only sufficiently bold and rapid; Mrs. Roberts was so
used to managing everything and being looked up to by everyone that
Helen's present mood left her quite dazed.
Nor did the girl give her any time to recover her presence of mind.
"There is only one thing more," she said, "I want you to have
breakfast as soon as you can, and then to let me have a carriage at
"A carriage?" echoed the other.
"Yes, Aunt Polly, I wish to drive over to Hilltown immediately."
"To Hilltown!" gasped Aunt Polly with yet greater consternation, and
showing signs of resistance at last; "pray what--"
But Helen only came again to the attack, with yet more audacity and
confidence. "Yes," she said, "to Hilltown; I mean to go to see
For answer to that last statement, poor Mrs, Roberts had simply no
words whatever; she could only gaze, and in the meantime, Helen was
going calmly on with her dressing, as if the matter were settled.
"Will Mr. Howard be down to breakfast?" she asked.
"As he is going away to-day, I presume he will be down," was the
reply, after which Helen quickly completed her toilet, her aunt
standing by and watching her in the meantime.
"Helen, dear," she asked at last, after having recovered her
faculties a trifle, "do you really mean that you will not explain to
me a thing of what has happened, or of what you are doing?"
"There is so much, Aunt Polly, that I cannot possibly explain it
now; I have too much else to think of. You must simply let me go my
way, and I will tell you afterwards."
"But, Helen, is that the right way to treat me? Is it nothing to
you, all the interest that I have taken in this and all that I have
done for you, that you should think so little of my advice?"
"I do not need any advice now," was the answer. "Aunt Polly, I see
exactly what I should do, and I do not mean to stop a minute for
anything else until I have done it. If it seems unkind, I am very
sorry, but in the meantime it must be done."
And while she was saying the words, Helen was putting on her hat;
then taking up her parasol and gloves she turned towards her aunt.
"I am ready now," she said, "and please let me have breakfast just
as soon as you can."
The girl was so much preoccupied with her own thoughts and purposes
that she scarcely even heard what her aunt said; she went down into
the garden where she could be alone, and paced up and down
impatiently until she heard the bell. Then she went up into the
dining room, where she found her aunt and uncle in conversation with
Helen had long been preparing herself to meet him, but she could not
keep her cheeks from flushing or keep from lowering her eyes; she
bit her lips together, however, and forced herself to look at him,
saying very resolutely, "Mr. Howard, I have to drive over to
Hilltown after breakfast, and I wish very much to talk to you about
something; would you like to drive with me?"
"Very much indeed," said he, quietly, after which Helen said not a
word more. She saw that her aunt and uncle were gazing at her and at
each other in silent wonder, but she paid no attention to it. After
eating a few hurried mouthfuls she excused herself, and rose and
went outside, where she saw the driving-cart which had been bought
for her use, waiting for her. It was not much longer before Mr.
Howard was ready, for he saw her agitation.
"It is rather a strange hour to start upon a drive," she said to
him, "but I have real cause for hurrying; I will explain about it."
And then she stopped, as her aunt came out to join them.
It was only a moment more before Mr. Howard had excused himself, and
the two were in the wagon, Helen taking the reins. She waved a
farewell to her aunt and then started the horse, and they were
whirled swiftly away down the road.
All the morning Helen's mind had been filled with things that she
wished to say to Mr. Howard. But now all her resolution seemed to
have left her, and she was trembling very much, and staring straight
ahead, busying herself with guiding the horse. When they were out
upon the main road where they might go as fast as they pleased
without that necessity, she swallowed the lump in her throat and
made one or two nervous attempts to speak.
Mr. Howard in the meantime had been gazing in front of him
thoughtfully. "Miss Davis," he said suddenly, turning his eyes upon
her, "may I ask you a question?"
"Yes," said Helen faintly.
"You heard all that I said about you last night?"
And Helen turned very red and looked away. "Yes, I heard it all,"
she said; and then there was a long silence.
It was broken by the man, who began in a low voice: "I scarcely know
how, Miss Davis, I can apologize to you--"
And then he stopped short, for the girl had turned her glance upon
him, wonderingly. "Apologize?" she said; she had never once thought
of that view of it, and the word took her by surprise.
"Yes," said Mr. Howard; "I said so many hard and cruel things that I
cannot bear to think of them."
Helen still kept her eyes fixed upon him, as she said, "Did you say
anything that was not true, Mr. Howard?"
The man hesitated a moment, and then he answered: "I said many
things that I had no right to say to you."
"That is not it," said Helen simply. "Did you say anything that was
Again Mr. Howard paused. "I am quite sure that I did," he said at
last. "Most of what I said I feel to have been untrue since I have
seen how it affected you."
"Because it made me so ashamed?" said Helen. And then some of the
thoughts that possessed her forced their way out, and she hurried on
impetuously: "That was the first thing I wanted to tell you. It is
really true that you were wrong, for I am not hard-hearted at all.
It was something that my--that people were making me do, and all the
time I was wretched. It was dreadful, I know, but I was tempted,
because I do love beautiful things. And it was all so sudden, and I
could not realize it, and I had nobody to advise me, for none of the
people I meet would think it was wrong. You must talk to me and help
me, because I've got to be very strong; my aunt will be angry, and
when I get back perhaps Mr. Harrison will be there, and I shall have
to tell him."
Then the girl stopped, out of breath and trembling with excitement;
Mr. Howard turned abruptly and fixed his dark eyes upon her.
"Tell him," he said. "Tell him what?"
"That I shall not marry him, of course," answered Helen; the other
gave a start, but she was so eager that she did not even notice it.
"I could not lose a minute," she said. "For it was so very dreadful,
"And you really mean not to marry him?" asked the other.
"Mean it!" echoed the girl, opening her eyes very wide. "Why, how in
the world could you suppose--" And then she stopped short, and
laughed nervously. "Of course," she said, "I forgot; you might
suppose anything. But, oh, if I could tell you how I have suffered,
Mr. Howard, you would understand that I could never have such a
thought again in the world. Please do understand me, for if I had
really been so base I should not come to you as I do after what I
heard. I cannot tell you how dreadfully I suffered while I was
listening, but after I had cried so much about it, I felt better,
and it seemed to me that it was the best thing that could have
happened to me, just to see my actions as they seemed to someone
else,--to someone who was good. I saw all at once the truth of what
I was doing, and it was agony to me to know that you thought so of
me. That was why I could not rest last night until I had told you
that I was really unhappy; for it was something that I was unhappy,
wasn't it, Mr. Howard?"
"Yes," said the other, "it was very much indeed."
"And oh, I want you to know the truth," Helen went on swiftly.
"Perhaps it is just egotism on my part, and I have really no right
to tell you all about myself in this way; and perhaps you will scorn
me when you come to know the whole truth. But I cannot help telling
you about it, so that you may advise me what to do; I was all
helpless and lost, and what you said came last night like a
wonderful light. And I don't care what you think about me if you
will only tell me the real truth, in just the same way that you did;
for I realized afterwards that it was that which had helped me so.
It was the first time in my life that it had ever happened to me;
when you meet people in the world, they only say things that they
know will please you, and that does you no good. I never realized
before how a person might go through the world and really never meet
with another heart in all his life; and that one can be fearfully
lonely, even in a parlor full of people. Did you ever think of that,
Mr. Howard had fixed his keen eyes upon the girl as she went
breathlessly on; she was very pale, and the sorrow through which she
had passed had left will think I have been so cold and wicked, that
you will soon scorn me altogether."
"I do not think that is possible," said her companion, gently, as he
saw the girl choking back a sob.
"Well, listen then," Helen began; but then she stopped again. "Do
you wish me to tell you?" she asked. "Do you care anything about it
at all, or does it seem--"
"I care very much about it, indeed," the other answered.
"However dreadful it may seem," said Helen. "Oh, please know that
while I have been doing it, it has made me utterly wretched, and
that I am so frightened now that I can scarcely talk to you; and
that if there is anything that I can do--oh, absolutely anything--I
will do it!" Then the girl bit her lips together and went on with
desperate haste, "It's what you said about what would happen if
there were someone else to love me, and to see how very bad I was!"
"There is some such person?" asked the man, in a low voice.
"Yes," said she. "It is someone I have known as long as I can
remember. And he loves me very much indeed, I think; and while I was
letting myself be tempted in this way he was very sick, and because
I knew I was so bad I did not dare go near him; and yesterday when
he heard I was going to marry this man, it almost killed him, and I
do not know what to fear now."
Then, punishing herself very bravely and swallowing all her bitter
shame, Helen went on to tell Mr. Howard of Arthur, and of her
friendship with him, and of how long he had waited for her; she
narrated in a few words how he had left her, and then how she had
seen him upon the road. Afterwards she stopped and sat very still,
trembling, and with her eyes lowered, quite forgetting that she was
"Miss Davis," said the other, gently, seeing how she was suffering,
"if you wish my advice about this, I should not worry myself too
much; it is better, I find in my own soul's life, to save most of
the time that one spends upon remorse, and devote it to action."
"To action?" asked Helen.
"Yes," said the other. "You have been very thoughtless, but you may
hope that nothing irrevocable has happened; and when you have seen
your friend and told him the truth just as you have told it to me, I
fancy it will bring him joy enough to compensate him for what he has
"That was what I meant to do," the girl went on. "But I have been
terrified by all sorts of fancies, and when I remember how much pain
I caused him, I scarcely dare think of speaking to him. When I saw
him by the roadside, Mr. Howard, he seemed to me to look exactly
like you, there was such dreadful suffering written in his face."
"A man who lives as you have told me your friend has lived," said
the other, "has usually a very great power of suffering; such a man
builds for himself an ideal which gives him all his joy and his
power, and makes his life a very glorious thing; but when anything
happens to destroy his vision or to keep him from seeking it, he
suffers with the same intensity that he rejoiced before. The great
hunger that was once the source of his power only tears him to
pieces then, as steam wrecks a broken engine."
"It's very dreadful," Helen said, "how thoughtless I was all along.
I only knew that he loved me very much, and that it was a vexation
Mr. Howard glanced at her. "You do not love him?" he asked.
"No," said Helen, quickly. "If I had loved him, I could never have
had a thought of all these other things. But I had no wish to love
anybody; it was more of my selfishness."
"Perhaps not," the other replied gently. "Some day you may come to
love him, Miss Davis."
"I do not know," Helen said. "Arthur was very impatient."
"When a man is swift and eager in all his life," said Mr. Howard,
smiling, "he cannot well be otherwise in his love. Such devotion
ought to be very precious to a woman, for such hearts are not easy
to find in the world."
Helen had turned and was gazing anxiously at Mr. Howard as he spoke
to her thus. "You really think," she said, "that I should learn to
appreciate Arthur's love?"
"I cannot know much about him from the little you have told me," was
the other's answer. "But it seems to me that it is there you might
find the best chance to become the unselfish woman that you wish to
"It is very strange," the girl responded, wonderingly, "how
differently you think about it. I should have supposed I was acting
very unwisely indeed if I loved Arthur; everyone would have told me
of his poverty and obscurity, and of how I must give up my social
"I think differently, perhaps," Mr. Howard said, "because I have
lived so much alone. I have come to know that happiness is a thing
of one's own heart, and not of externals; the questions I should ask
about a marriage would not be of wealth and position. If you really
wish to seek the precious things of the soul, I should think you
would be very glad to prove it by some sacrifice; and I know that
two hearts are brought closer, and all the memories of life made
dearer, by some such trial in the early days. People sneer at love
in a cottage, but I am sure that love that could wish to live
anywhere else is not love. And as to the social career, a person who
has once come to know the life of the heart soon ceases to care for
any kind of life that is heartless; a social career is certainly
that, and in comparison very vulgar indeed."
Helen looked a little puzzled, and repeated the word "vulgar"
inquiringly. Mr Howard smiled.
"That is the word I always use when I am talking about high life,"
he said, laughing. "You may hurl the words 'selfish' and 'worldly'
at it all you please, and never reach a vital spot; but the word
'vulgar' goes straight to the heart."
"You must explain to me why it is that," said Helen, with so much
seriousness that the other could not help smiling again.
"Perhaps I cannot make anyone else see the thing as I do," was his
reply. "And yet it seems rery simple. When a man lives a while in
his own soul, he becomes aware of the existence of a certain
spiritual fact which gives life all its dignity and meaning; he
learns that this sacred thing demands to be sought for, and
worshiped; and that the man who honors it and seeks it is only
hailed as gentleman, and aristocrat, and that he who does not honor
it and seek it is vulgar, tho he be heir of a hundred earls, and
leader of all society, and lord of millions. Every day that one
lives in this presence that I speak of, he discovers a little more
how sacred a thing is true nobility, and how impertinent is the
standard that values men for the wealth they win, or for the ribbons
they wear, or for anything else in the world. I fancy that you, if
you came once to love your friend, would find it very easy to do
without the admiration of those who go to make up society; they
would come to seem to you very trivial and empty people, and
afterwards, perhaps, even very cruel and base."
Mr. Howard stopped; but then seeing that Helen was gazing at him
inquiringly once more he added, gravely, "One could be well content
to let vain people strut their little hour and be as wonderful as
they chose, if it were not for the painful fact that they are eating
the bread of honest men, and that millions are toiling and starving
in order that they may have ease and luxury. That is such a very
dreadful thing to know that sometimes one can think of nothing else,
and it drives him quite mad."
The girl sat very still after that, trembling a little in her heart;
finally she asked, her voice shaking slightly, "Mr. Howard, what can
one do about such things?"
"Very little," was the reply, "for they must always be; but at least
one can keep his own life earnest and true. A woman who felt such
things very keenly might be an inspiration to a man who was called
upon to battle with selfishness and evil."
"You are thinking of Arthur once more?" asked the girl.
"Yes," answered the other, with a slight smile. "It would be a happy
memory for me, to know that I have been able to give you such an
ideal. Some of these days, you see, I am hoping that we shall again
have a poet with a conviction and a voice, so that men may know that
sympathy and love are things as real as money. I am quite sure there
never was a nation so ridiculously sodden as our own just at
present; all of our maxims and ways of life are as if we were the
queer little Niebelung creatures that dig for treasure in the bowels
of the earth, and see no farther than the ends of their shovels; we
live in the City of God, and spend all our time scraping the gold of
the pavements. Your uncle told me this morning that he did not see
why a boy should go to college when he can get a higher salary if he
spends the four years in business. I find that there is nothing to
do but to run away and live alone, if one wants really to believe
that man is a spiritual nature, with an infinite possibility of
wonder and love; and that the one business of his life is to develop
that nature by contact with things about him; and that every act of
narrow selfishness he commits is a veil which he ties about his own
eyes, and that when he has tied enough of them, not all the pearl
and gold of the gorgeous East can make him less a pitiable wretch."
Mr. Howard stopped again, and smiled slightly; Helen sat gazing
thoughtfully ahead, thinking about his way of looking at life, and
how very strange her own actions seemed in the light of it.
Suddenly, however, because throughout all the conversation there had
been another thought in her consciousness, she glanced ahead and
urged the horse even faster. She saw far in the distance the houses
of the place to which she was bound, and she said nothing more, her
companion also becoming silent as he perceived her agitation.
Helen had been constantly growing more anxious, so that now the
carriage could not travel fast enough; it seemed to her that
everything depended upon what she might find at Hilltown. It was
only the thought of Arthur that kept her from feeling completely
free from her wretchedness; she felt that she might remedy all the
wrong that she had done, and win once more the prize of a good
conscience, provided only that nothing irretrievable had happened to
him. Now as she came nearer she found herself imagining more and
more what might have happened, and becoming more and more impatient.
There was a balance dangling before her eyes, with utter happiness
on one side and utter misery on the other; the issue depended upon
what she discovered at Hilltown.
The two sat in silence, both thinking of the same thing, as they
whirled past the place where Helen had seen Arthur before. The girl
trembled as she glanced at it, for all of the previous day's
suffering rose before her again, and made her fears still more real
and importunate. She forced herself to look, however, half thinking
that she might see Arthur again; but that did not happen, and in a
minute or two more the carriage had come to the house where he
lived. She gave the reins to Mr. Howard, and sprang quickly out; she
rang the bell, and then stood for a minute, twitching her fingers,
The woman who kept the house, and whom Helen knew personally, opened
the door; the visitor stepped in and gasped out breathlessly, "Where
is Arthur?" Her hands shook visibly as she waited for the reply.
"He is not in, Miss Davis," the woman answered.
"Where is he?" Helen cried.
"I do not know," was the response. "He has gone."
"Gone!" And the girl started back, catching at her heart. "Gone
"I do not know, Miss Davis."
"But what--" began the other.
"This will tell you all I know," said the woman, as she fumbled in
her apron, and put a scrap of crumpled paper into Helen's trembling
The girl seized it and glanced at it; then she staggered back
against the wall, ghastly pale and almost sinking. The note, in
Arthur's hand, but so unsteady as to be almost illegible, ran thus:
"You will find in this my board for the past week; I am compelled to
leave Hilltown, and I shall not ever return."
And that was all. Helen stared at it and stared again, and then let
it fall and gazed about her, echoing, in a hollow voice, "And I
shall not ever return!"
"That is all I can tell you about it," went on the woman. "I have
not seen him since Elizabeth was here yesterday morning; he came
back late last night and packed his bag and went away."
Helen sank down upon a chair and buried her face in her hands, quite
overwhelmed by the suddenness of that discovery. She remained thus
for a long time, without either sound or motion, and the woman stood
watching her, knowing full well what was the matter. When Helen
looked up again there was agony written upon her countenance. "Oh,
are you sure you have no idea where I can find him?" she moaned.
"No, Miss Davis," said the woman. "I was asounded when I got this
"But someone must know, oh, surely they must! Someone must have seen
him,--or he must have told someone!"
"I think it likely that he took care not to," was the reply.
The thought was a death-knell to Helen's last hope, and she sank
down, quite overcome; she knew that Arthur could have had but one
motive in acting as he had,--that he meant to cut himself off
entirely from all his old life and surroundings. He had no friends
in Hilltown, and having lived all alone, it would be possible for
him to do it. Helen remembered Mr. Howard's saying of the night
before, how the sight of her baseness might wreck a man's life
forever, and the more she thought of that, the more it made her
tremble. It seemed almost more than she could bear to see this
fearful consequence of her sin, and to know that it had become a
fact of the outer world, and gone beyond her power. It seemed quite
too cruel that she should have such a thing on her conscience, and
have it there forever; most maddening of all was the thought that it
had depended upon a few hours of time.
"Oh, how can I have waited!" she moaned. "I should have come last
night, I should have stopped the carriage when I saw him! Oh, it is
Perhaps there are no more tragic words in human speech than "Too
late." Helen felt just then as if the right even to repentance were
taken from her life. It was her first introduction to that fearful
thing of which Mr. Howard had told her upon their first meeting; in
the deep loneliness of her own heart Helen was face to face just
then with FATE. She shrank back in terror, and she struggled
frantically, but she felt its grip of steel about her wrist; and
while she sat there with her face hidden, she was learning to gaze
into its eyes, and front their fiery terror. When she looked up
again her face was very white and pitiful to see, and she rose from
her chair and went toward the door so unsteadily that the woman put
her arm about her.
"You will tell me," she gasped faintly--"you will tell me if you
"Yes," said the other gently, "I will."
So Helen crept into the carriage again, looking so full of
wretchedness that her companion knew that the worst must have
happened, and took the reins and silently drove towards home, while
the girl sat perfectly still. They were fully half way home before
she could find a word in which to tell him of her misery. "I shall
never be happy in my life again!" she whispered. "Oh, Mr. Howard,
never in my life!"
When the man gazed at her, he was frightened to see how grief and
fear had taken possession of her face; and yet there was no word
that he could say to soothe her, and no hope that he could give her.
When the drive was ended, she stole silently up to her room, to be
alone with her misery once more.
"Thou majestic in thy sadness."
Upon the present occasion there was no violent demonstration of
emotion to alarm the Roberts household, for Helen's grief was not of
the kind to vent itself in a passionate outburst and pass away. To
be sure, she wept a little, but the thoughts which haunted her were
not of a kind to be forgotten, and afterwards she was as wretched as
ever. What she had done seemed to her so dreadful that even tears
were not right, and she felt that she ought only to sit still and
think of it, and be frightened; it seemed to her just then as if she
would have to do the same thing for the rest of her days. She spent
several hours in her room without once moving, and without being
disturbed, for her aunt was sufficiently annoyed at her morning's
reception not to visit her again. The lunch hour passed, therefore,
unthought of by Helen, and it was an hour or two later before she
heard her aunt's step in the hall, and her knock upon the door.
Mrs. Roberts entered and stood in the center of the room, gazing at
Helen, and at the look of helpless despair which she turned towards
her; the woman's own lips were set very tightly.
"Well?" she said abruptly, "have you had your wish, and are you
Helen did not answer, nor did she half realize the question, so lost
was she in her own misery. She sat gazing at her aunt, while the
latter went on: "You have had your way in one thing, at any rate,
Helen; Mr. Harrison is downstairs to see you."
The girl gave a slight start, but then she answered quietly: "Thank
you, Auntie; I shall go down and see him."
"Helen," said Mrs. Roberts, "do you still refuse to tell me anything
of what I ask you?"
Helen was quite too much humbled to wish to oppose anyone just then;
and she answered mournfully, "What is it that you wish?"
"I wish to know in the first place why you wanted to see Mr.
"I wanted to see him to tell him that I could not marry him, Aunt
And Mrs. Roberts sat down opposite Helen and fixed her gaze upon
her. "I knew that was it," she said grimly. "Now, Helen, what in the
world has come over you to make you behave in this fashion?"
"Oh, it is so much to tell you," began the girl; "I don't know--"
"What did you find at Hilltown?" went on her aunt persistently. "Did
you see Arthur?"
"No, Aunt Polly, that is what is the matter; he has gone."
"Gone! Gone where?"
"Away, Aunt Polly! Nobody saw him go, and he left a note saying that
he would never return. And I am so frightened--"
Mrs. Roberts was gazing at her niece with a puzzled look upon her
face. She interrupted her by echoing the word "frightened"
"Yes, Auntie!" cried the girl; "for I may never be able to find him
again, to undo what I have done!"
And Mrs. Roberts responded with a wondering laugh, and observed,
"For my part, I should think you'd be very glad to be rid of him
She saw Helen give a start, but she could not read the girl's mind,
and did not know how much she had done to estrange her by those
words. It was as if Helen's whole soul had shrunk back in horror,
and she sat staring at her aunt with open eyes.
"I suppose you think," the other went on grimly, "that I am going to
share all this wonderful sentimentality with you about that boy; but
I assure you that you don't know me! He may get you to weep over him
because he chooses to behave like a fool, but not me."
Helen was still for a moment, and then she said, in an awe-stricken
voice: "Aunt Polly, I have wrecked Arthur's life!" Mrs. Roberts
responded with a loud guffaw, which was to the other so offensive
that it was like a blow in the face.
"Wrecked his life!" the woman cried scornfully. "Helen, you talk
like a baby! Can't you know in the first place that Arthur is doing
all this high-tragedy acting for nothing in the world but to
frighten you? Wrecked his life! And there you were, I suppose, all
ready to get down on your knees to him, and beg his pardon for
daring to be engaged, and to promise to come to his attic and live
off bread and water, if he would only be good and not run away!"
Mrs. Roberts' voice was bitter and mocking, and her words seemed to
Helen almost blasphemy; it had never occurred to her that such grief
as hers would not be sacred to anyone. Yet there was no thought of
anger in her mind just then, for she had been chastened in a fiery
furnace, and was too full of penitence and humility for even that
much egotism. She only bowed her head, and said, in a trembling
voice: "Oh, Aunt Polly, I would stay in an attic and live off bread
and water for the rest of my days, if I could only clear my
conscience of the dreadful thing I have done."
"A beautiful sentiment indeed!" said Mrs. Roberts, with a sniff of
disgust; and she stood surveying her niece in silence for a minute
or two. Then smothering her feelings a little, she asked her in a
quieter voice, "And so, Helen, you are really going to fling aside
the life opportunity that is yours for such nonsense as this? There
is no other reason?"
"There is another reason, Aunt Polly," said Helen; "it is so
dreadful of you to ask me in that way. How CAN you have expected me
to marry a man just because he was rich?"
"Oh," said the other, "so that is it! And pray what put the idea
into your head so suddenly?" She paused a moment, and then, as the
girl did not raise her head, she went on, sarcastically, "I fancy I
know pretty well where you got all of these wonderful new ideas; you
have not been talking with Mr. Howard for nothing, I see."
"No, not for nothing," said Helen gently.
"A nice state of affairs!" continued the other angrily; "I knew
pretty well that his head was full of nonsense, but when I asked him
here I thought at least that he would know enough about good manners
to mind his own affairs. So he has been talking to you, has he? And
now you cannot possibly marry a rich man!"
Mrs. Roberts stopped, quite too angry to find any more words; but as
she sat for a minute or two, gazing at Helen, it must have occurred
to her that she would not accomplish anything in that way. She made
an effort to swallow her emotions.
"Helen, dear," she said, sitting down near her niece, "why will you
worry me in this dreadful way, and make me speak so crossly to you?
I cannot tell you, Helen, what a torment it is to me to see you
throwing yourself away in this fashion; I implore you to stop and
think before you take this step, for as sure as you are alive you
will regret it all your days. Just think of it how you will feel,
and how I will feel, when you look back at the happiness you might
have had, and know that it is too late! And, Helen, it is due to
nothing in the world but to your inexperience that you have let
yourself be carried away by these sublimities. You MUST know, child,
and you can see if you choose, that they have nothing to do with
life; they will not butter your bread, Helen, or pay your coachman,
and when you get over all this excitement, you will find that what I
tell you is true. Look about you in the world, and where can you
find anybody who lives according to such ideas?"
"What ideas do you mean, Aunt Polly?" asked Helen, with a puzzled
"Oh, don't you suppose," answered the other, "that I know perfectly
well what kind of stuff it is that Mr. Howard has talked to you? I
used to hear all that kind of thing when I was young, and I believed
some of it, too,--about how beautiful it was to marry for love, and
to have a fine scorn of wealth and all the rest of it; but it wasn't
very long before I found out that such opinions were of no use in
"Then you don't believe in love, Aunt Polly?" asked Helen, fixing
her eyes on the other.
"What's the use of asking such an absurd question?" was the answer.
"Of course I believe in love; I wanted you to love Mr. Harrison, and
you might have, if you had chosen. I learned to love Mr. Roberts;
naturally, a couple have to love each other, or how would they ever
live happily together? But what has that to do with this ridiculous
talk of Mr. Howard's? As if two people had nothing else to do in the
world but to love each other! It's all very well, Helen, for a man
who chooses to live like Robinson Crusoe to talk such nonsense, but
he ought not to put it in the mind of a sentimental girl. He would
very soon find, if he came out into life, that the world isn't run
by love, and that people need a good many other things to keep them
happy in it. You ought to have sense enough to see that you've got
to live a different sort of a life, and that Mr. Howard knows
nothing in the world about your needs. I don't go alone and live in
visions, and make myself imaginary lives, Helen; I look at the world
as it is. You will have to learn some day that the real way to find
happiness is to take things as you find them, and get the best out
of life you can. I never had one-tenth of your advantages, and yet
there aren't many people in the world better off than I am; and you
could be just as happy, if you would only take my advice about it.
What I am talking to you is common sense, Helen, and anybody that
you choose to ask will tell you the same thing."
So Mrs. Roberts went on, quite fairly under way in her usual course
of argument, and rousing all her faculties for this last struggle.
She was as convinced as ever of the completeness of her own views,
and of the effect which they must have upon Helen; perhaps it was
not her fault that she did not know to what another person she was
In truth, it would not be easy to tell how great a difference there
was in the effect of those old arguments upon Helen; while she had
been sitting in her room alone and suffering so very keenly, the
girl had been, though she did not know it, very near indeed to the
sacred truths of life, and now as she listened to her aunt, she was
simply holding her breath. The climax came suddenly, for as the
other stopped, Helen leaned forward in her chair, and gazing deep
into her eyes asked her, "Aunt Polly, can it really be that you do
not know that what you have been saying to me is dreadfully
There was perhaps nothing that the girl could have done to take her
complacent relative more by surprise; Mrs. Roberts sat for a moment,
echoing the last word, and staring as if not quite able to realize
what Helen meant. As the truth came to her she turned quite pale.
"It seems to me," she said with a sneer, "that I remember a time
when it didn't seem quite so wicked to you. If I am not mistaken you
were quite glad to do all that I told you, and to get as much as
ever you could."
Helen was quite used to that taunt in her own heart, and to the pain
that it brought her, so she only lowered her eyes and said nothing.
In the meantime Mrs. Roberts was going on in her sarcastic tone:
"Wicked indeed!" she ejaculated, "and I suppose all that I have been
doing for you was wicked too! I suppose it was wicked of me to watch
over your education all these years as I have, and to plan your
future as if you were my own child, so that you might amount to
something in the world; and it was wicked of me to take all the
trouble that I have for your happiness, and wicked of Mr. Roberts to
go to all the trouble about the trousseau that he has! The only
right and virtuous thing about it all is the conduct of our niece
who causes us to do it all, and who promises herself to a man and
lets him go to all the trouble that he has, and then gets her head
full of sanctimonious notions and begins to preach about wickedness
to her elders!"
Helen had nothing to reply to those bitter words, for it was only
too easy just then to make her accuse herself of anything. She sat
meekly suffering, and thinking that the other was quite justified in
all her anger. Mrs. Roberts was, of course, quite incapable of
appreciating her mood, and continued to pour out her sarcasm, and to
grow more and more bitter. To tell the truth, the worthy matron had
not been half so unselfish in her hopes about Helen as she liked to
pretend, and she showed then that like most people of the world who
are perfectly good-natured on the surface, she could display no
little ugliness when thwarted in her ambitions and offended in her
It was not possible, however, for her to find a word that could seem
to Helen unjust, so much was the girl already humbled. It was only
after her aunt had ceased to direct her taunts at her, and turned
her spite upon Mr. Howard and his superior ideas, that it seemed to
Helen that it was not helping her to hear any more; then she rose
and said, very gently, "Aunt Polly, I am sorry that you feel so
about me, and I wish that I could explain to you better what I am
doing. I know that what I did at first was all wrong, but that is no
reason why I should leave it wrong forever. I think now that I ought
to go and talk to Mr. Harrison, who is waiting for me, and after
that I want you to please send me home, because father will be there
to-day, and I want to tell him about how dreadfully I have treated
Arthur, and beg him to forgive me."
Then, without waiting for any reply, the girl left the room and went
slowly down the steps. The sorrow that possessed her lay so deep
upon her heart that everything else seemed trivial in comparison,
and she had put aside and forgotten the whole scene with her aunt
before she had reached the parlor where Mr. Harrison was waiting;
she did not stop to compose herself or to think what to say, but
went quickly into the room.
Mr. Harrison, who was standing by the window, turned when he heard
her; she answered his greeting kindly, and then sat down and
remained very still for a moment or two, gazing at her hands in her
lap. At last she raised her eyes to him, and asked: "Mr. Harrison,
did you receive the letter I wrote you?"
"Yes," the other answered quickly, "I did. I cannot tell you how
much pain it caused me. And, Helen--or must I call you Miss Davis?"
"You may call me Helen," said the girl simply. "I was very sorry to
cause you pain," she added, "but there was nothing else that I could
"At least," the other responded, "I hope that you will not refuse to
explain to me why this step is necessary?"
"No, Mr. Harrison," said Helen, "it is right that I should tell you
all, no matter how hard it is to me to do it. It is all because of a
great wrong that I have done; I know that when I have told you, you
will think very badly of me indeed, but I have no right to do
anything except to speak the truth."
She said that in a very low voice, not allowing her eyes to drop,
and wearing upon her face the look of sadness which seemed now to
belong to it always. Mr. Harrison gazed at her anxiously, and said:
"You seem to have been ill, Helen."
"I have been very unhappy, Mr. Harrison," she answered, "and I do
not believe I can ever be otherwise again. Did you not notice that I
"I never thought of it until yesterday," the other replied.
"Until the drive," said Helen; "that was the climax of it. I must
tell you the reason why I was so frightened then,--that I have a
friend who was as dear to me as if he were my brother, and he loved
me very much, very much more than I deserve to be loved by anyone;
and when I was engaged to you he was very ill, and because I knew I
was doing so wrong I did not dare to go and see him. That was why I
was afraid to pass through Hilltown. The reason I was so frightened
afterwards is that I caught a glimpse of him, and he was in such a
dreadful way. This morning I found that he had left his home and
gone away, no one knows where, so that I fear I shall never see him
Helen paused, and the other, who had sat down and was leaning
forward anxiously, asked her, "Then it is this friend that you
"No," the girl replied, "it is not that; I do not love anybody."
"But then I do not understand," went on Mr. Harrison, with a puzzled
look. "You spoke of its having been so wrong; was it not your right
to wish to marry me?"
And Helen, punishing herself as she had learned so bravely to do,
did not lower her eyes even then; she flushed somewhat, however, as
she answered: "Mr. Harrison, do you know WHY I wished to marry you?"
The other started a trifle, and looked very much at a loss indeed.
"Why?" he echoed. "No, I do not know--that is--I never thought--"
"It hurts me more than I can tell you to have to say this to you,"
Helen said, "for you were right and true in your feeling. But did
you think that I was that, Mr. Harrison? Did you think that I really
Probably the good man had never been more embarrassed in his life
than he was just then. The truth to be told, he was perfectly well
aware why Helen had wished to marry him, and had been all along,
without seeing anything in that for which to dislike her; he was
quite without an answer to her present question, and could only
cough and stammer, and reach for his handkerchief. The girl went on
quickly, without waiting very long for his reply.
"I owe it to you to tell you the truth," she said, "and then it will
no longer cause you pain to give me up. For I did not love you at
all, Mr. Harrison; but I loved all that you offered me, and I
allowed myself to be tempted thus, to promise to marry you. Ever
afterwards I was quite wretched, because I knew that I was doing
something wicked, and yet I never had the courage to stop. So it
went on until my punishment came yesterday. I have suffered
fearfully since that."
Helen had said all that there was to be said, and she stopped and
took a deep breath of relief. There was a minute or two of silence,
after which Mr. Harrison asked: "And you really think that it was so
wrong to promise to marry me for the happiness that I could offer
Helen gazed at him in surprise as she echoed, "Was it so wrong?" And
at the same moment even while she was speaking, a memory flashed
across her mind, the memory of what had occurred at Fairview the
last time she had been there with Mr. Harrison. A deep, burning
blush mantled her face, and her eyes dropped, and she trembled
visibly. It was a better response to the other's question than any
words could have been, and because in spite of his contact with the
world he was still in his heart a gentleman, he understood and
changed color himself and looked away, feeling perhaps more rebuked
and humbled than he had ever felt in his life before.
So they sat thus for several minutes without speaking a word, or
looking at each other, each doing penance in his own heart. At last,
in a very low voice, the man said, "Helen, I do not know just how I
can ever apologize to you."
The girl answered quietly: "I could not let you apologize to me, Mr.
Harrison, for I never once thought that you had done anything
"I have done very wrong indeed," he answered, his voice trembling,
"for I do not think that I had any right even to ask you to marry
me. You make me feel suddenly how very coarse a world I have lived
in, and how much lower than yours all my ways of thinking are. You
look surprised that I say that," he added, as he saw that the girl
was about to interrupt him, "but you do not know much about the
world. Do you suppose that there are many women in society who would
hesitate to marry me for my money?"
"I do not know," said Helen, slowly; "but, Mr. Harrison, you could
certainly never be happy with a woman who would do that."
"I do not think now that I should," the man replied, earnestly, "but
I did not feel that way before. I did not have much else to offer,
Helen, for money is all that a man like me ever tries to get in the
"It is so very wrong, Mr. Harrison," put in the other, quickly.
"When people live in that way they come to lose sight of all that is
right and beautiful in life; and it is all so selfish and wicked!"
(Those were words which might have made Mr. Howard smile a trifle
had he been there to hear them; but Helen was too much in earnest to
think about being original.)
"I know," said Mr. Harrison, "and I used to believe in such things;
but one never meets anyone else that does, and it is so easy to live
differently. When you spoke to me as you did just now, you made me
seem a very poor kind of a person indeed."
The man paused, and Helen sat gazing at him with a worried look upon
her face. "It was not that which I meant to do," she began, but then
she stopped; and after a long silence, Mr. Harrison took up the
conversation again, speaking in a low, earnest voice.
"Helen," he said, "you have made me see that I am quite unworthy to
ask for your regard,--that I have really nothing fit to offer you.
But I might have one thing that you could appreciate,--for I could
worship, really worship, such a woman as you; and I could do
everything that I could think of to make myself worthy of you,--even
if it meant the changing of all my ways of life. Do you not suppose
that you could quite forget that I was a rich man, Helen, and still
let me be devoted to you?"
There was a look in Mr. Harrison's eyes as he gazed at her just then
which made him seem to her a different sort of a man,--as indeed he
was. She answered very gently. "Mr. Harrison," she said, "it would
be a great happiness to me to know that anyone felt so about me. But
I could never marry you; I do not love you."
"And you do not think," asked the other, "that you could ever come
to love me, no matter how long I might wait?"
"I do not think so," Helen said in a low voice. "I wish that you
would not ever think of me so."
"It is very easy to say that," the man answered, pleadingly, "but
how am I to do it? For everything that I have seems cheap compared
with the thought of you. Why should I go on with the life I have
been leading, heaping up wealth that I do not know how to use, and
that makes me no better and no happier? I thought of you as a new
motive for going on, Helen, and you must know that a man cannot so
easily change his feelings. For I really loved you, and I do love
you still, and I think that I always must love you."
Helen's own suffering had made her alive to other people's feelings,
and the tone of voice in which he spoke those words moved her very
much. She leaned over and laid her hand upon his,--something which
she would not have thought she could ever do.
"Mr. Harrison," she said, "I cannot tell you how much it hurts me to
have you speak to me so, for it makes me see more than ever how
cruelly unfeeling I have been, and how much I have wronged you. It
was for that I wished to beg you to forgive me, to forgive me just
out of the goodness of your heart, for I cannot offer any excuse for
what I did. It makes me quite wretched to have to say that, and to
know that others are suffering because of my selfishness; if I had
any thought of the sacredness of the beauty God has given me, I
would never have let you think of me as you did, and caused you the
pain that I have. But you must forgive me, Mr. Harrison, and help
me, for to think of your being unhappy about me also would be really
more than I could bear. Sometimes when I think of the one great
sorrow that I have already upon my conscience, I feel that I do not
know what I am to do; and you must go away and forget about me, for
my sake if not for your own. I really cannot love anyone; I do not
think that I am fit to love anyone; I only do not want to make
anyone else unhappy."
And Helen stopped again, and pressed her hand upon Mr. Harrison's
imploringly. He sat gazing at her in silence for a minute, and then
he said, slowly: "When you put it so, it is very hard for me to say
anything more. If you are only sure that that is your final
word--that there is really no chance that you could ever love me,--"
"I am perfectly sure of it," the girl answered; "and because I know
how cruel it sounds, it is harder for me to say than for you to
hear. But it is really the truth, Mr. Harrison. I do not think that
you ought to see me again until you are sure that it will not make
The man sat for a moment after that, with his head bowed, and then
he bit his lip very hard and rose from his chair. "You can never
know," he said, "how lonely it makes a man feel to hear words like
those." But he took Helen's hand in his and held it for an instant,
and then added: "I shall do as you ask me. Good-by." And he let her
hand fall and went to the door. There he stopped to gaze once again
for a moment, and then turned and disappeared, closing the door
Helen was left seated in the chair, where she remained for several
minutes, leaning forward with her head in her hands, and gazing
steadily in front of her, thinking very grave thoughts. She rose at
last, however, and brushed back the hair from her forehead, and went
slowly towards the door. It would have seemed lack of feeling to
her, had she thought of it, but even before she had reached the
stairs the scene through which she had just passed was gone from her
mind entirely, and she was saying to herself, "If I could only know
where Arthur is this afternoon!"
Her mind was still full of that thought when she entered the room,
where she found her aunt seated just as she had left her, and in no
more pleasant humor than before.
"You have told him, I suppose?" she inquired.
"Yes," Helen said, "I have told him, Aunt Polly."
"And now you are happy, I suppose!"
"No, indeed, I am very far from that," said Helen, and she went to
the window; she stood there, gazing out, but with her thoughts
equally far away from the scene outside as from Mrs. Roberts'
warnings and sarcasms. The latter had gone on for several minutes
before her niece turned suddenly. "Excuse me for interrupting you,
Aunt Polly," she said; "but I want to know whether Mr. Howard has
"His train goes in an hour or so," said Mrs. Roberts, not very
"I think I will see if he is downstairs," Helen responded; "I wish
to speak to him before he goes." And so she descended and found Mr.
Howard seated alone upon the piazza.
Taking a seat beside him, she said, "I did not thank you when I left
you in the carriage, Mr. Howard, for having been so kind to me; but
I was so wrapped up in my worry--"
"I understood perfectly," put in the other. "I saw that you felt too
keenly about your discovery to have anything to say to me."
"I feel no less keenly about it now," said Helen; "but I could not
let you go away until I had spoken to you." She gazed very earnestly
at him as she continued: "I have to tell you how much you have done
for me, and how I thank you for it from the bottom of my heart. I
simply cannot say how much all that you have shown me has meant to
me; I should have cared for nothing but to have you tell me what it
would be right for me to do with my life,--if only it had not been
for this dreadful misfortune of Arthur's, which makes it seem as if
it would be wicked for me to think about anything."
Mr. Howard sat gazing in front of him for a moment, and then he said
gently, "What if the change that you speak of were to be
accomplished, Miss Davis, without your ever thinking about it? For
what is it that makes the difference between being thoughtless and
selfish, and being noble and good, if it be not simply to walk
reverently in God's great temple of life, and to think with sorrow
of one's own self? Believe me, my dear friend, the best men that
have lived on earth have seen no more cause to be pleased with
themselves than you."
"That may be true, Mr. Howard," said Helen, sadly, "but it can do me
no good to know it. It does not make what happens to Arthur a bit
less dreadful to think of."
"It is the most painful fact about all our wrong," the other
answered, "that no amount of repentance can ever alter the
consequences. But, Miss Davis, that is a guilt which all creation
carries on its shoulders; it is what is symbolized in the Fall of
Man--that he has to realize that he might have had infinite beauty
and joy for his portion, if only the soul within him had never
weakened and failed. Let me tell you that he is a lucky man who can
look back at all his life and see no more shameful guilt than yours,
and no consequence worse than yours can be." As Mr. Howard spoke he
saw a startled look cross the girl's face, and he added, "Do not
suppose that I am saying that to comfort you, for it is really the
truth. It oftens happens too, that the natures that are strongest
and most ardent in their search for righteousness have the worst
sins to remember."
Helen did not answer for several moments, for the thought was
strange to her; then suddenly she gazed at the other very earnestly
and said: "Mr. Howard, you are a man who lives for what is beautiful
and high,--suppose that YOU had to carry all through your life the
burden of such guilt as mine?"
The man's voice was trembling slightly as he answered her: "It is
not hard for me to suppose that, Miss Davis; I HAVE such a burden to
carry." As he raised his eyes he saw a still more wondering look
upon her countenance.
"But the consequences!" she exclaimed. "Surely, Mr. Howard, you
could not bear to live if you knew--"
"I have never known the consequences," said the man, as she stopped
abruptly; "just as you may never know them; but this I know, that
yours could not be so dreadful as mine must be. I know also that I
am far more to blame for them than you."
Helen could not have told what caused the emotion which made her
shudder so just then as she gazed into Mr. Howard's dark eyes. Her
voice was almost a whisper as she said, "And yet you are GOOD!"
"I am good," said the man gently, "with all the goodness that any
man can claim, the goodness of trying to be better. You may be that
Helen sat for a long time in silence after that, wondering at what
was passing in her own mind; it was as if she had caught a sudden
glimpse into a great vista of life. She had always before thought of
this man's suffering as having been physical; and the deep movement
of sympathy and awe which stirred her now was one step farther from
her own self-absorption, and one step nearer to the suffering that
is the heart of things.
But Helen had to keep that thought and dwell upon it in solitude;
there was no chance for her to talk with Mr. Howard any more, for
she heard her aunt's step in the hall behind her. She had only time
to say, "I am going home myself this afternoon; will you come there
to see me, Mr. Howard? I cannot tell you how much pleasure it would
"There is nothing I should like to do more," the man answered; "I
hope to keep your friendship. "When would you like me to come?"
"Any time that you can," replied Helen. "Come soon, for I know how
unhappy I shall be."
That was practically the last word she said to Mr. Howard, for her
aunt joined them, and after that the conversation was formal. It was
not very long before the carriage came for him, and Helen pressed
his hand gratefully at parting, and stood leaning against a pillar
of the porch, shading her eyes from the sun while she watched the
carriage depart. Then she sat down to wait for it to return from the
depot for her, which it did before long; and so she bid farewell to
It was a great relief to Helen; and while we know not what emotions
it may cause to the reader, it is perhaps well to say that he may
likewise pay his last respects to the worthy matron, who will not
take part in the humble events of which the rest of our story must
For Helen was going home, home to the poor little parsonage of
Oakdale! She was going with a feeling of relief in her heart second
only to her sorow; the more she had come to feel how shallow and
false was the splendor that had allured her, the more she had found
herself drawn to her old home, with its memories that were so dear
and so beautiful. She felt that there she might at least think of
Arthur all that she chose, and meet with nothing to affront her
grief; and also she found herself thinking of her father's love with
a new kind of hunger.
When she arrived, she found Mr. Davis waiting for her with a very
anxious look upon his countenance; he had stopped at Hilltown on his
way, and learned about Arthur's disappearance, and then heard from
Elizabeth what she knew about Helen's engagement. The girl flung
herself into his arms, and afterwards, quite overcome by the
emotions that surged up within her, sank down upon her knees before
him and sobbed out the whole story, her heart bursting with sorrow
and contrition; as he lifted her up and kissed her and whispered his
beautiful words of pardon and comfort, Helen found it a real
Mr. Davis was also able to calm her worry a little by telling her
that he did not think it possible that Arthur would keep his
whereabouts secret from him very long. "When I find him, dear
child," he said, "it will all be well again, for we will believe in
love, you and I, and not care what the great world says about it. I
think I could be well content that you should marry our dear
"But, father, I do not love him," put in Helen faintly.
"That may come in time," said the other, kissing her tenderly, and
smiling. "There is no need to talk of it, for you are too young to
marry, anyway. And in the meantime we must find him."
There was a long silence after that. Helen sat down on the sofa
beside her father and put her arms about him and leaned her head
upon his bosom, drinking in deep drafts of his pardon and love. She
told him about Mr. Howard, and of the words of counsel which he had
given her, and how he was coming to see her again. Afterwards the
conversation came back to Arthur and his love for Helen, and then
Mr. Davis went on to add something that caused Helen to open her
eyes very wide and gaze at him in wonder.
"There is still another reason for wishing to find him soon," he
said, "for something else has happened to-day that he ought to know
"What is it?" asked Helen.
"I don't know that I ought to tell you about it just now," said the
other, "for it is a very sad story. But someone was here to see
Arthur this morning--someone whom I never expected to see again in
all my life."
"To see Arthur?" echoed the girl in perplexity. "Who could want to
see Arthur?" As her father went on she gave a great start.
"It was his mother," said Mr. Davis.
And Helen stared at him, gasping for breath as she echoed the words,
"You may well be astonished," said the clergyman. "But the woman
proved beyond doubt that she was really the person who left Arthur
"You did not recognize her?"
"No, Helen; for it has been twenty-one or two years since I saw her,
and she has changed very much since then. But she told me that in
all that time she has never once lost sight of her boy, and has been
watching all that he did."
"Where has she been?"
"She did not tell me," the other answered, "but I fancy in New York.
The poor woman has lived a very dreadful life, a life of such
wretched wickedness that we cannot even talk about it; I think I
never heard of more cruel suffering. I was glad that you were not
here to see her, or know about it until after she was gone; she said
that she had come to see Arthur once, because she was going away to
"To die!" exclaimed the girl, in horror.
"Yes," said Mr. Davis, "to die; she looked as if she could not live
many days longer. I begged her to let me see that she was provided
for, but she said that she was going to find her way back to her old
home, somewhere far off in the country, and she would hear of
nothing else. She would not tell the name of the place, nor her own
name, but she left a letter for Arthur, and begged me to find him
and give it to him, so that he might come and speak to her once if
he cared to do so. She begged me to forgive her for the trouble she
had caused me, and to pray that God would forgive her too; and then
she bade me farewell and dragged herself away."
Mr. Davis stopped, and Helen sat for a long time staring ahead of
her, with a very frightened look in her eyes, and thinking, "Oh, we
MUST find Arthur!" Then she turned to her father, her lips trembling
and her countenance very pale. "Tell me," she said, in a low,
awe-stricken voice, "a long time ago someone must have wronged that
"Yes, dear," said Mr. Davis, "when she was not even as old as you
are. And the man who wronged her was worth millions of dollars,
Helen, and could have saved her from all her suffering with a few of
them if he cared to. No one but God knows his name, for the woman
would not tell it."
Helen sat for a moment or two staring at him wildly; and then
suddenly she buried her head in his bosom and burst into tears,
sobbing so cruelly that her father was sorry he had told her what he
had. He knew why that story moved her so, and it wrung his heart to
think of it,--that this child of his had put upon her own shoulders
some of that burden of the guilt of things, and must suffer beneath
it, perhaps for the rest of her days.
When Helen gazed up at him again there was the old frightened look
upon her face, and all his attempts to comfort her were useless.
"No, no!" she whispered. "No, father! I cannot even think of peace
again, until we have found Arthur!"
"A fugitive and gracious light he seeks,
Shy to illumine; and I seek it too.
This does not come with houses or with gold,
With place, with honor, and a flattering crew;
'Tis not in the world's market bought and sold."
Three days passed by after Helen had returned to her father, during
which the girl stayed by herself most of the time. When the breaking
off of her engagement was known, many of her old friends came to see
her, but the hints that they dropped did not move her to any
confidences; she felt that it would not be possible for her to find
among them any understanding of her present moods. Her old life, or
rather the life to which she had been looking forward, seemed to her
quite empty and shallow, and there was nothing useful that she knew
of to do except to offer to help her father in such ways as she
could. She drew back into her own heart, giving most of her time to
thinking about Mr. Howard and Arthur, and no one but her father knew
why it was that she was so subdued and silent.
It was only on the third morning, when there came a letter from Mr.
Howard saying that he was coming out that afternoon to see her, that
Helen seemed to be interested and stirred again. She went to the
window more than once to look for him; and when at last her friend
had arrived, and the two were seated in the parlor, she said to him
without waiting for any circumstance, "I have been wishing very much
to see you, Mr. Howard, because there is something I am anxious to
talk to you about, if you will let me."
"I am sorry to say that it is about myself," she went on, when the
other had expressed his willingness to hear her, "for I want to ask
you to help me, and to give me some advice. I ought to have asked
you the questions I am going to before this, but the last time I saw
you I could think about nothing but Arthur. They only came to me
after you had gone."
"What are they?" asked the man.
"You must knew, Mr. Howard," said Helen, "that it is you who have
shown me the wrongness of all that I was doing in my life, and
stirred me with a desire to do better. I find now that such thoughts
have always been so far from me that the wish to be right is all
that I have, and I do not know at all what to do. It seemed to me
that I would rather talk to you about it than to anyone, even my own
father. I do not know whether that is just right, but you do not
mind my asking you, do you?"
"It is my wish to help you in every way that I can," was the gentle
"I will tell you what I have been thinking," said Helen. "I have
been so unhappy in the last three days that I have done nothing at
all; but it seemed to me somehow that it must be wrong of me to let
go of myself in that way--as if I had no right to pamper myself and
indulge my own feelings. It was not that I wished to forget what
wrong things I have done, or keep from suffering because of them;
yet it seemed to me that the fact that I was wretched and frightened
was no excuse for my doing no good for the rest of my life. When I
have thought about my duty before, it has always been my
school-girl's task of studying and practicing music, but that is not
at all what I want now, for I cannot bear to think of such things
while the memory of Arthur is in my mind. I need something that is
not for myself, Mr. Howard, and I find myself thinking that it
should be something that I do not like to do."
Helen paused for a moment, gazing at the other anxiously; and then
she went on: "You must know that what is really behind what I am
saying is what you said that evening in the arbor, about the kind of
woman I ought to be because God has made me beautiful. My heart is
full of a great hunger to be set right, and to get a clearer sight
of the things that are truly good in life. I want you to talk to me
about your own ideals, and what you do to keep your life deep and
true; and then to tell me what you would do in my place. I promise
you that no matter how hard it may be I shall feel that just what
you tell me to do is my duty, and at least I shall never be happy
again until I have done it. Do you understand how I feel, Mr.
"Yes," the man answered, in a quiet voice, "I understand you
perfectly." And then as he paused, watching the girl from beneath
his dark brows, Helen asked, "You do not mind talking to me about
"When a man lives all alone and as self-centered as I," the other
replied, smiling, "it is fatally easy for him to do that; he may
blend himself with his ideals in such a curious way that he never
talks about anything else. But if you will excuse that, I will tell
you what I can."
"Tell me why it is that you live so much alone," said the girl. "Is
it that you do not care for friends?"
"It is very difficult for a man who feels about life as I do to find
many friends," he responded. "If one strives to dwell in deep
things, and is very keen and earnest about it, he is apt to find
very little to help him outside of himself; perhaps it is because I
have met very few persons in my life, but it has not happened to me
to find anyone who thinks about it as I do, or who cares to live it
with my strenuousness. I have met musicians, some who labored very
hard at their art, but none who felt it a duty to labor with their
own souls, to make them beautiful and strong; and I have met
literary men and scholars, but they were all interested in books,
and were willing to be learned, and to classify and plod; I have
never found one who was swift and eager, and full of high impatience
for what is real and the best. There should come times to a man, I
think, when he feels that books are an impertinence, when he knows
that he has only the long-delayed battle with his own heart to
fight, and the prize of its joy to win. When such moods come upon
him he sees that he has to live his life upon his knees, and it is
rarely indeed that he knows of anyone who can follow him and share
in his labor. So it is that I have had to live all my life by
myself, Miss Davis."
"You have always done that?" Helen asked, as he stopped.
"Yes," he answered, "or for very many years. I have a little house
on the wildest of lakes up in the mountains, wyhere I play the
hermit in the summer, and where I should have been now if it had not
been that I yielded to your aunt's invitation. When I spoke of
having no friends I forgot the things of Nature, which really do
sympathize with an artist's life; I find that they never fail to
become full of meaning whenever my own spirit shakes off its bonds.
It has always been a belief of mine that there is nothing that
Nature makes that is quite so dull and unfeeling as man,--with the
exception of children and lovers, I had much rather play my violin
for the flowers and the trees."
"You like to play it out of doors?" Helen asked, with a sudden
"Yes," laughed the other, "that is one of my privileges as a hermit.
It seems quite natural to the wild things, for they have all a music
of their own, a wonderful, silent music that the best musicians
cannot catch; do you not believe that, Miss Davis?"
"Yes," Helen said, and sat gazing at her companion silently for a
minute. "I should think a life of such effort would be very hard,"
she said finally. "Do you not ever fail?"
"I do not do much else," he replied with a sad smile, "and get up
and stumble on. The mastership of one's heart is the ideal, you
know; and after all one's own life cannot be anything but struggle
and failure, for the power he is trying to conquer is infinite. When
I find my life very hard I do not complain, but know that the reason
for it is that I have chosen to have it real, and that the essence
of the soul is its effort. I think that is a very important thing to
feel about life, Miss Davis."
"That is why I do not wish to be idle," said Helen.
"It is just because people do not know this fact about the soul,"
the other continued, "and are not willing to dare and suffer, and
overcome dullness, and keep their spiritual faculties free, that
they sink down as they grow older, and become what they call
practical, and talk very wisely about experience. It is only when
God sends into the world a man of genius that no mountains of earth
can crush, and who keeps his faith and sweetness all through his
life that we learn the baseness of the thought that experience
necessarily brings cynicism and selfishness. There is to me in all
this world nothing more hateful than this disillusioned worldliness,
and nothing makes me angrier than to see it taking the name of
wisdom. If I were a man with an art, there is nothing, I think, that
I should feel more called to make war upon; it is a very blow in the
face of God. Nothing makes me sadder than to see the life that such
people live,--to see for instance how pathetic are the things they
call their entertainments; and when one knows himself that life is a
magic potion, to be drank with rapture and awe,--that every instance
of it ought to be a hymn of rejoicing, and the whole of it rich and
full of power, like some majestic symphony. I often find myself
wishing that there were some way of saving the time that people
spend in their pleasures;
"'Life piled on life
Were all too little, and of one to me
As I kneel before God's altar of the heart I know that if I had
infinite time and infinite energy there would be beauty and joy
still to seek, and so as I look about me in the world and see all
the sin and misery that is in it, it is my comfort to know that the
reason for it is that men are still living the lives of the animals,
and have not even dreamed of the life that belongs to them as men.
That is something about which I feel very strongly myself,--that is
part of my duty as a man who seeks worship and rightness to mark
that difference in my own life quite plainly."
Mr. Howard paused for a moment, and Helen said very earnestly, "I
wish that you would tell me about that."
"I consider it my duty," the other replied, "to keep all the
external circumstances of my life as simple and as humble as I
should have to if I were quite poor. If I were not physically
unable, I should feel that I ought to do for my own self all that I
needed to have done, for I think that if it is necessary that others
should be degraded to menial service in order that my soul might be
beautiful and true, then life is bad at the heart of it, and I want
none of its truth and beauty. I do not have to look into my heart
very long, Miss Davis, to discover that what I am seeking in life is
something that no millions of money can buy me; and when I am face
to face with the sternness of what I call that spiritual fact, I see
that fine houses and all the rest are a foolish kind of toy, and
wonder that any man should think that he can please me by giving the
labor of his soul to making them. It is much the same thing as I
feel, for instance, when I go to hear a master of music, and find
that he has spent his hours in torturing himself and his fingers in
order to give me an acrobatic exhibition, when all the time what I
wish him to do, and what his genius gave him power to do, was to
find the magic word that should set free the slumbering demon of my
soul. So I think that a man who wishes to grow by sympathy and
worship should do without wealth, if only because it is so trivial;
but of course I have left unmentioned what is the great reason for a
self-denying life, the reason that lies at the heart of the matter,
and that includes all the others in it,--that he who lives by prayer
and joy makes all men richer, but he who takes more than his bare
necessity of the wealth of the body must know that he robs his
brother when he does it. The things of the soul are everywhere, but
wealth stands for the toil and suffering of human beings, and
thousands must starve and die so that one rich man may live at ease.
That is no fine rhetoric that I am indulging in, but a very deep and
earnest conviction of my soul; first of all facts of morality stands
the law that the life of man is labor, and that he who chooses to
live otherwise is a dastard. He may chase the phantom of happiness
all his days and not find it, and yet never guess the reason,--that
joy is a melody of the heart, and that he is playing upon an
instrument that is out of tune. Few people choose to think of that
at all, but I cannot afford ever to forget it, for my task is to
live the artist's life, to dwell close to the heart of things; it is
something that I simply cannot understand how any man who pretends
to do that can know of the suffering and starving that is in the
world, and can feel that he who has God's temple of the soul for his
dwelling, has right to more of the pleasures of earth than the
plainest food and shelter and what tools of his art he requires. If
it is otherwise it can only be because he is no artist at all, no
lover of life, but only a tradesman under another name, using God's
high gift to get for himself what he can, and thinking of his
sympathy and feeling as things that he puts on when he goes to work,
and when he is sure that they will cost him no trouble."
Mr. Howard had been speaking very slowly, and in a deep and earnest
voice; he paused for a moment, and then added with a slight smile,
"I have been answering your question without thinking about it, Miss
Davis, for I have told you all that there is to tell about my life."
Helen did not answer, but sat for a long time gazing at him and
thinking very deeply; then she said to him, her voice shaking
slightly: "You have answered only half of my question, Mr. Howard; I
want you to tell me what a woman can do to bring those high things
into her life--to keep her soul humble and strong. I do not think
that I have your courage and self-reliance."
The man's voice dropped lower as he answered her, "Suppose that you
were to find this friend of yours that knows you so well, and loves
you so truly; do you not think that there might be a chance for you
to win this prize of life that I speak of?" Helen did not reply, but
sat with her eyes still fixed upon the other's countenance; as he
went on, his deep, musical voice held them there by a spell.
"Miss Davis," he said, "a man does not live very long in the kingdom
of the soul before there comes to be one thing that he loves more
than anything else that life can offer; that thing is love. For love
is the great gateway into the spiritual life, the stage of life's
journey when human beings are unselfish and true to their hearts, if
ever the power of unselfishness and truth lies in them. As for man,
he has many battles to fight and much of himself to kill before the
great prizes of the soul can be his--but the true woman has but one
glory and one duty in life, and sacredness and beauty are hers by
the free gift of God. If she be a true woman, when her one great
passion takes its hold upon her it carries all her being with it,
and she gives herself and all that she has. Because I believe in
unselfishness and know that love is the essence of things, I find in
all the world nothing more beautiful than that, and think that she
has no other task in life, except to see that the self which she
gives is her best and Inghest, and to hold to the thought of the
sacredness of what she is doing. For love is the soul's great act of
worship, and the heart's great awakening to life. If the man be
selfish and a seeker of pleasure, what I say of love and woman is
not for him; but if he be one who seeks to worship, to rouse the
soul within him to its vision of the beauty and preciousness of
life, then he must know that this is the great chance that Nature
gives him, that no effort of his own will ever carry him so far
towards what he seeks. The woman who gives herself to him he takes
for his own with awe and trembling, knowing that the glory which he
reads in her eyes is the very presence of the spirit of life; and
because she stands for this precious thing to him he seeks her love
more than anything else upon earth, feeling that if he has it he has
everything, and if he has it not, he has nothing. He cherishes the
woman as before he cherished what was best in his own soul; he
chooses all fair and noble actions that may bring him still more of
her love; all else that life has for him he lays as an offering at
the shrine of her heart, all his joy and all his care, and asks but
love in return; and because the giving of love is the woman's joy
and the perfectness of her sacrifice, her glory, they come to forget
themselves in each other's being, and to live their lives in each
other's hearts. The joy that each cares for is no longer his own
joy, but the other's; and so they come to stand for the sacredness
of God to each other, and for perpetual inspiration. By and by,
perhaps, from long dwelling out of themselves and feeding their
hearts upon things spiritual, they learn the deep and mystic
religion of love, that is the last lesson life has to teach; it is
given to no man to know what is the source of this mysterious being
of ours, but men who come near to it find it so glorious that they
die for it in joy; and the least glimpse of it gives a man quite a
new feeling about a human heart. So at last it happens that the
lovers read a fearful wonder in each other's eyes, and give each
other royal greeting, no longer for what they are, but for that
which they would like to be. They come to worship together as they
could never have worshiped apart; and always that which they worship
and that in which they dwell, is what all existence is seeking with
so much pain, the sacred presence of wonder that some call Truth,
and some Beauty,--but all Love. When you ask me how unselfishness is
to be made yours in life, that is the answer which I give you."
Mr. Howard's voice had dropped very low; as he stopped Helen was
trembling within herself. She was drinking still more from the
bottomless cup of her humiliation and remorse, for she was still
haunted by the specter of what she had done. The man went on after
an interval of silence.
"I think there is no one," he said, "whom these things touch more
than the man who would live the life of art that I have talked of
before; for the artist seeks experience above all things, seeks it
not only for himself but for his race. And it must come from his own
heart; no one can drive him to his task. All artists tell that the
great source of their power is love; and the wisest of them makes of
his love an art-work, as he makes an art-work of his life. He counts
his power of loving most sacred of all his powers, and guards it
from harm as he guards his life itself; he gives all his soul to the