Part 5 out of 6
dreaming of that dream, and lays all his prayer before it; and when
he meets with the maiden who will honor such effort, he forgets
everything else in his life, and gives her all his heart, and
studies to 'worship her by years of noble deeds.' For a woman who
loves love, the heart of such a man is a lifetime's treasure; for
his passion is of the soul, and does not die; and all that he has
done has been really but a training of himself for that great
consecration. If he be a true artist, all his days have been spent
in learning to wrestle with himself, to rouse himself and master his
own heart; until at last his very being has become a prayer, and his
soul like a great storm of wind that sweeps everything away in its
arms. Perhaps that hunger has possessed him so that he never even
wakens in the dead of night without finding it with him in all its
strength; it rouses him in the morning with a song, and when
midnight comes and he is weary, it is a benediction and a hand upon
his brow. All the time, because he has a man's heart and knows of
his life's great glory, his longing turns to a dream of love, to a
vision of the flying perfect for which all his life is a search.
There is a maiden who dwells in all the music that he hears, and who
calls to him in the sunrise, and flings wide the flowers upon the
meadows; she treads before him on the moonlit waters and strews them
with showers of fire. If his soul be only strong enough, perhaps he
waits long years for that perfect woman, that woman who loves not
herself, but loves love; and all the time the yearning of his heart
is growing, so that those who gaze at him wonder why his eyes are
dark and sunken. He knows that his heart is a treasure-house which
he himself cannot explore, and that in all the world he seeks
nothing but some woman before whom he might fling wide its doors."
Helen had been leaning on the table, holding her hands in front of
her; towards the end they were trembling so much that she took them
away and clasped them in her lap. When he ceased her eyes were
lowered; she could not see how his were fixed upon her, but she knew
that her bosom was heaving painfully, and that there were hot tears
upon her cheeks. He added slowly: "I have told you all that I think
about life, my dear friend, and all that I think about love; so I
think I have told you all that I know." And Helen lifted her eyes to
his and gazed at him through her tears.
"You tell _me_ of such things?" she asked. "You give such advice to
"Yes," said the other, gently, "why not to you?"
"Mr. Howard," Helen answered, "do you not know what I have done, and
how I must feel while I listen to you? It is good that I should hear
such things, because I ought to suffer; but when I asked you for
your advice I wished for something hard and stern to do, before I
dared ever think of love, or feel myself right again."
Mr. Howard sat watching her for a moment in silence, and then he
answered gently, "I do not think, my dear friend, that it is our
duty as struggling mortals to feel ourselves right at all; I am not
even sure that we ought to care about our rightness in the least.
For God has put high and beautiful things in the world, things that
call for all our attention; and I am sure that we are never so close
to rightness as when we give all our devotion to them and cease
quite utterly to think about ourselves. And besides that, the love
that I speak of is not easy to give, Miss Davis. It is easy to give
up one's self in the first glow of feeling; but to forget one's self
entirely, and one's comfort and happiness in all the little things
of life; to consecrate one's self and all that one has to a lifetime
of patience and self-abnegation; and to seek no reward and ask for
no happiness but love,--do you not think that such things would cost
one pain and bring a good conscience at last?"
Helen's voice was very low as she answered, "Perhaps, at last." Then
she sat very still, and finally raised her deep, earnest eyes and
leaned forward and gazed straight into her companion's. "Mr.
Howard," she said, "you must know that YOU are my conscience; and it
is the memory of your words that causes me all my suffering. And now
tell me one thing; suppose I were to say to you that I could beg
upon my knees for a chance to earn such a life as that; and suppose
I should ever come really to love someone, and should give up
everything to win such a treasure, do you think that I could clear
my soul from what I have done, and win rightness for mine? Do you
think that you--that YOU could ever forget that I was the woman who
had wished to sell her love for money?"
Mr. Howard answered softly, "Yes, I think so."
"But are you sure of it?" Helen asked; and when she had received the
same reply she drew a long breath, and a wonderful expression of
relief came upon her face; all her being seemed to rise,--as if all
in an instant she had flung away the burden of shame and fear that
had been crushing her soul. She sat gazing at the other with a
strange look in her eyes, and then she sank down and buried her head
in her arms upon the table.
And fully a minute passed thus without a sound. Helen was just
lifting her head again, and Mr. Howard was about to speak, when an
unexpected interruption caused him to stop. The front door was
opened, and as Helen turned with a start the servant came and stood
in the doorway.
"What is it, Elizabeth?" Helen asked in a faint voice.
"I have just been to the post office," the woman answered; "here is
a letter for you."
"Very well," Helen answered; "give it to me."
And she took it and put it on the table in front of her. Then she
waited until the servant was gone, and in the meantime, half
mechanically, turned her eyes upon the envelope. Suddenly the man
saw her give a violent start and turn very pale; she snatched up the
letter and sprang to her feet, and stood supporting herself by the
chair, her hand shaking, and her breath coming in gasps.
"What is it?" Mr. Howard cried.
Helen's voice was hoarse and choking as she answered him: "It is
from Arthur!" As he started and half rose from his chair the girl
tore open the letter and unfolded the contents, glancing at it once
very swiftly, her eyes flying from line to line; the next instant
she let it fall to the floor with a cry and clutched with her hands
at her bosom. She tried to speak, but she was choking with her
emotion; only her companion saw that her face was transfigured with
delight; and then suddenly she sank down upon the sofa beside her,
her form shaken with hysterical laughter and sobbing.
Mr. Howard had risen from his chair in wonder; but before he could
take a step toward her he heard someone in the hall, and Mr. Davis
rushed into the room. "Helen, Helen!" he exclaimed, "what is the
matter?" and sank down upon his knees beside her; the girl raised
her head and then flung herself into his arms, exclaining
incoherently: "Oh, Daddy, I am free! Oh, oh--can you believe it--I
Long after her first ecstasy had passed Helen still lay with her
head buried in her father's bosom, trembling and weeping and
repeating half as if in a dream that last wonderful word, "Free!"
Meanwhile Mr. Davis had bent down and picked up the paper to glance
Most certainly Arthur would have wondered had he seen the effect of
that letter upon Helen; for he wrote to her with bitter scorn, and
told her that he had torn his love for her from his heart, and made
himself master of his own life again. He bid her go on in the course
she had chosen, for a day or two had been enough for him to find the
end of her power over him, and of his care for her; and he added
that he wrote to her only that she might not please herself with the
thought of having wrecked him, and that he was going far away to
begin his life again.
The words brought many emotions to Mr. Davis, and suggested many
doubts; but to Helen they brought but one thought. She still clung
to her father, sobbing like a child and muttering the one word
"Free!" When at last the fit had vented itself and she looked up
again, she seemed to Mr. Howard more like a girl than she ever had
before; and she wiped away her tears laughingly, and smoothed back
her hair, and was wonderfully beautiful in her emotion. She
introduced Mr. Howard to her father, and begged him to excuse her
for her lack of self-control. "I could not help it," she said, "for
oh, I am so happy--so happy!" And she leaned her head upon her
father's shoulder again and gazed up into his face. "Daddy dear,"
she said, "and are you not happy too?"
"My dear," Mr Davis protested, "of course I am glad to hear that
Arthur is himself again. But that is not finding him, and I fear--"
"Oh, oh, please don't!" Helen cried, the frightened look coming back
upon her face in a flash. "Oh please do not tell me that--no, no! Do
let me be happy just a little while--think of it, how wretched I
have been! And now to know he is safe! Oh, please, Daddy!" And the
tears had welled up in Helen's eyes again. She turned quickly to Mr.
Howard, her voice trembling. "Tell me that I may be happy," she
exclaimed. "You know all about it, Mr. Howard. Is it not right that
I should be happy just a little?"
As her friend answered her gently that he thought it was, she sat
looking at him for a moment, and then the cloud passed over. She
brushed away her tears, and put her arms about her father again.
"I cannot help it," she went on, quickly, "I must be happy whether I
want to or not! You must not mind anything I do! For oh, think what
it means to have been so wretched, so crushed and so frightened! I
thought that all my life was to be like that, that I could never
sing again, because Arthur was ruined. Nobody will ever know how I
felt,--how many tears I shed; and now think what it means to be
free--to be free,--oh, free! And to be able to be good once more! I
should go mad if I thought about it!"
Helen had risen as she spoke, and she spread out her arms and flung
back her head and drank in a deep breath of joy. She began singing,
half to herself; and then as that brought a sudden idea into her
mind she ran to the window and shut it quickly. "I will sing you my
hymn!" she laughed, "_that_ is the way to be happy!"
And she went to the piano; in a minute more she had begun the chorus
she had sung to Arthur, "Hail thee Joy, from Heaven descending!" The
flood of emotion that was pent up within her poured itself out in
the wild torrent of music, and Helen seemed happy enough to make up
for all the weeks of suffering. As she swept herself on she proved
what she had said,--that she would go mad if she thought much about
her release; and Mr. Howard and her father sat gazing at her in
wonder. When she stopped she was quite exhausted and quite dazed,
and came and buried her head in her father's arms, and sat waiting
until the heaving of her bosom had subsided, and she was calm once
more,--in the meantime murmuring faintly to herself again and again
that she was happy and that she was free.
When she looked up and brushed away her tangled hair again, perhaps
she thought that her conduct was not very conventional, for she
begged Mr. Howard's pardon once more, promising to be more orderly
by and by. Then she added, laughing, "It is good that you should see
me happy, though, because I have always troubled you with my
egotisms before." She went on talking merrily, until suddenly she
sprang up and said, "I shall have to sing again if I do not run
away, so I am going upstairs to make myself look respectable!" And
with that she danced out of the room, waking the echoes of the house
with her caroling:
"Merrily, merrily, shall I live now,
Under the blossom that hangs on the bough!"
Lus-tig im Leid, sing'ich von Lieb-e!
"Some one whom I can court
With no great change of manner,
Still holding reason's fort,
Tho waving fancy's banner."
Several weeks had passed since Helen had received the letter from
Arthur, the girl having in the meantime settled quietly down at
Oakdale She had seen few of her friends excepting Mr. Howard, who
had come out often from the city.
She was expecting a visit from him one bright afternoon, and was
standing by one of the pillars of the vine-covered porch, gazing up
at the blue sky above her and waiting to hear the whistle of the
train. When she saw her friend from the distance she waved her hand
to him and went to meet him, laughing, "I am going to take you out
to see my stream and my bobolink to-day. You have not seen our
country yet, you know."
The girl seemed to Mr. Howard more beautiful that afternoon than he
had ever known her before, for she was dressed all in white and
there was the old spring in her step, and the old joy in her heart.
When they had passed out of the village, she found the sky so very
blue, and the clouds so very white, and the woods and meadows so
very green, that she was radiantly happy and feared that she would
have to sing. And she laughed:
"Away, away from men and towns,
To the wild wood and the downs!"
And then interrupted herself to say, "You must not care, Mr. Howard,
if I chatter away and do all the talking. It has been a long time
since I have paid a visit to my friends out here, and they will all
be here to welcome me."
Even as Helen spoke she looked up, and there was the bobolink flying
over her head and pouring out his song; also the merry breeze was
dancing over the meadows, and everything about her was in motion.
"Do you know," she told her companion, "I think most of the
happiness of my life has been out in these fields; I don't know what
made me so fond of the country, but even when I was a very little
thing, whenever I learned a new song I would come out here and sing
it. Those were times when I had nothing to do but be happy, you
know, and I never thought about anything else. It has always been so
easy for me to be happy, I don't know why. There is a fountain of
joy in my heart that wells up whether I want it to or not, so that I
can always be as merry as I choose. I am afraid that is very
selfish, isn't it, Mr. Howard? I am trying to be right now, you
"You may consider you are being merry for my sake at present," said
the man with a laugh. "It is not always so easy for me to be
"Very well, then," smiled Helen; "I only wish that you had brought
your violin along. For you see I always think of these things of
Nature with music; when I was little they were all creatures that
danced with me. These winds that are so lively were funny little
fairy-men, and you could see all the flowers shake as they swept
over them; whenever I heard any music that was quick and bright I
always used to fancy that some of them had hold of my hands and were
teaching me to run. I never thought about asking why, but I used to
find that very exciting. And then there was my streamlet--he's just
ahead here past the bushes--and I used to like him best of all. For
he was a very beautiful youth, with a crown of flowers upon his
head; there was a wonderful light in his eyes, and his voice was
very strong and clear, and his step very swift, so it was quite
wonderful when you danced with him. For he was the lord of all the
rest, and everything around you got into motion then; there was
never any stopping, for you know the streamlet always goes faster
and faster, and gets more and more joyous, until you cannot bear it
any more and have to give up. We shall have to play the Kreutzer
Sonata some time, Mr. Howard.'
"I was thinking of that," said the other, smiling.
"I think it would be interesting to know what people imagine when
they listen to music," went on Helen. "I have all sorts of queer
fancies for myself; whenever it gets too exciting there is always
one last resource, you can fly away to the top of the nearest
mountain. I don't know just why that is, but perhaps it's because
you can see so much from there, or because there are so many winds;
anyway, there is a dance--a wonderfully thrilling thing, if only the
composer knows how to manage it. There is someone who dances with
me--I never saw his face, but he's always there; and everything
around you is flying fast, and there comes surge after surge of the
music and sweeps you on,--perhaps some of those wild runs on the
violins that are just as if the wind took you up in its arms and
whirled you away in the air! That is a most tremendous experience
when it happens, because then you go quite beside yourself and you
see that all the world is alive and full of power; the great things
of the forest begin to stir too, the trees and the strange shapes in
the clouds, and all the world is suddenly gone mad with motion; and
so by the time you come to the last chords your hands are clenched
and you can hardly breathe, and you feel that all your soul is
Helen was getting quite excited then, just over her own enthusiasm;
perhaps it was because the wind was blowing about her. "Is that the
way music does with you?" she laughed, as she stopped.
"Sometimes," said Mr. Howard, smiling in turn; "but then again while
all my soul is throbbing I feel my neighbor reaching to put on her
wraps, and that brings me down from the mountains so quickly that it
is painful; afterwards you go outside among the cabs and cable-cars,
and make sad discoveries about life."
"You are a pessimist," said the girl.
"Possibly," responded the other, "but try to keep your fountain of
joy a while, Miss Davis. There are disagreeable things in life to be
done, and some suffering to be borne, and sometimes the fountain
dries up very quickly indeed."
Helen was much more ready to look serious than she would have been a
month before; she asked in a different tone, "You think that must
"Not quite always," was the reply; "there are a few who manage to
keep it, but it means a great deal of effort. Perhaps you never took
your own happiness so seriously," he added with a smile.
"No," said Helen, "I never made much effort that I know of."
"Some day perhaps you will have to," replied the other, "and then
you will think of the creatures of nature as I do, not simply as
rejoicing, but as fighting the same battle and daring the same pain
The girl thought for a moment, and then asked: "Do you really
believe that as a fact?"
"I believe something," was the answer, "that makes me think when I
go among men and see their dullness, that Nature is flinging wide
her glory in helpless appeal to them; and that it is a dreadful
accident that they have no eyes and she no voice." He paused for a
moment and then added, smiling, "It would take metaphysics to
explain that; and meanwhile we were talking about your precious
fountain of joy."
"I should think," answered Helen, thoughtfully, "that it would be
much better to earn one's happiness."
"Perhaps after you had tried it a while you would not think so,"
replied her companion; "that is the artist's life, you know, and in
practice it is generally a very dreadful life. Real effort is very
hard to make; and there is always a new possibility to lure the
artist, so that his life is always restless and a cruel defeat."
"It is such a life that you have lived, Mr. Howard?" asked Helen,
gazing at him.
"There are compensations," he replied, smiling slightly, "or there
would be no artists. There comes to each one who persists some hour
of victory, some hour when he catches the tide of his being at the
flood, and when he finds himself master of all that his soul
contains, and takes a kind of fierce delight in sweeping himself on
and in breaking through everything that stands in his way. You made
me think of such things by what you said of your joy in music; only
perhaps the artist discovers that not only the streamlets and the
winds have motion and meaning, but that the planets also have a word
for his soul; and his own being comes suddenly to seem to him a
power which it frightens him to know of, and he sees the genius of
life as a spirit with eyes of flame. It lifts him from his feet and
drags him away, and the task of his soul takes the form of something
that he could cry out to escape. He has fought his way into the
depths of being at last, and lie stands alone in all his littleness
on the shore of an ocean whose waves are centuries--and then even
while he is wondering and full of fear, his power begins to die
within him and to go he knows not how; and when he looks at himself
again he is like a man who has had a dream, and wakened with only
the trembling left; except that he knows it was no dream but a fiery
reality, and that the memory of it will cast a shadow over all the
rest of his days and make them seem trivial and meaningless. No one
knows how many years he may spend in seeking and never find that
lost glory again."
Mr. Howard had been speaking very intensely, and when he stopped
Helen did not reply at once, but continued gazing at him. "What is
the use of such moments," she asked at last, "if they only make one
"At least one may keep the memory," he replied with a smile, "and
that gives him a standard of reality. He learns to be humble, and
learns how to judge men and men's glory, and the wonderful things of
men's world,--so that while they are the most self-occupied and
self-delighted creatures living he may see them as dumb cattle that
are grazing while the sunrise is firing the hilltops."
"You have had such moments yourself?" asked Helen.
"A long time ago," said the other, smiling at the seriousness with
which she spoke. "When you were telling me about your musical
fancies you made me remember how once when I was young I climbed a
high hill and had an adventure with a wind that was very swift and
eager. At first I recollect I tried not to heed it, because I had
been dull and idle and unhappy; but I found that I could not be very
long in the presence of so much life without being made ashamed, and
that brave windstorm put me through a course of repentance of the
very sternest kind before it let me go. I tried just to promise that
I would be more wide-awake and more true, but it paid not the least
attention to that; and it would hear no arguments as to the
consequences,--it came again and again with a furious burst, and
swept me away every time I tried to think; it declared that I had
been putting off the task of living my life long enough, and that I
was to attend to it then and there. And when I gave myself up as
demanded, it had not the least mercy upon me, and each time that I
protested that I was at the end of my power it simply whirled me
away again like a mad thing. When at last I came down from the
hillside I had quite a new idea of what living meant, and I have
been more respectful before the winds and other people of genius
Helen felt very much at home in that merry phantasy of her
companion's, but she did not say anything; after a moment's waiting
the other went on to tell her of something else that pleased her no
less. "I remember," he said, "how as I came down I chanced upon a
very wonderful sight, one which made an impression upon me that I
have not forgotten. It was a thicket of wild roses; and I have
always dreamed that the wild rose was a creature of the wind and
fire, but I never knew so much about it before. After that day I
have come seriously to believe it would be best if we prudent and
timid creatures, who neither dare nor care anything for the sake of
beauty,--if we simply did not ever see the wild rose. For it lives
only for a day or two, Miss Davis, and yet, as I discovered then, we
may live all our years and never get one such burst of glory, one
such instant of exultation and faith as that. And also I seriously
think that among men and all the wonderful works of men there is
nothing so beautiful and so precious as that little flower that none
of them heeds."
Mr. Howard glanced at the girl suddenly; she had half stopped in her
walk, and she was gazing at him with a very eager look in her bright
eyes. "What is it?" he asked her, and Helen exclaimed, "Oh, I am so
glad you mentioned it! I had forgotten--actually forgotten!"
As her friend looked puzzled, the girl went on with her merriest
laugh, "I must tell you all about it, and we shall be happy once
more; for you turn down this path towards the woods, and then you
must go very quietly and hold your breath, and prepare yourself just
as if you were going into a great cathedral; for you want all your
heart to be full of expectation and joy! It is for only about one
week in the year that you may see this great sight, and the
excitement of the first rapture is best of all. It would be so
dreadful if you were not reverent; you must fancy that you are
coming to hear a wonderful musician, and you know that he'll play
for you, but you don't know just when. That's what I used to
pretend, and I used to come every day for a week or two, and very
early in the morning, when the dew was still everywhere and the
winds were still gay. Several times you go back home disappointed,
but that only makes you more eager for the next time; and when you
do find them it is wonderful--oh, most wonderful! For there is a
whole hedge of them along the edge of the wood; and you may be just
as madly happy as you choose and never be half happy enough, because
they are so beautiful!"
"These are wild roses?" asked the other, smiling.
"Yes," said Helen, "and oh, think how many days I have forgotten
them, and they may have bloomed! And for three years I have not been
here, and I was thinking about it all the way over on the steamer."
They had come to the path that turned off to the woods, and Helen
led her companion down it, still prattling away in the meantime;
when they came to the edge of the woods she began walking upon tip
toe, and put her fingers upon her lips in fun. Then suddenly she
gave a cry of delight, for there were the roses for a fact, a whole
hedge of them as she had said, glowing in the bright sun and making
a wonderful vision.
The two stopped and stood gazing at them, the girl's whole soul
dancing within her. "Oh do you know," she cried suddenly, "I think
that I could get drunk with just looking at roses! There is a
strange kind of excitement that comes over one, from drinking in the
sight of their rich red, and their gracefulness and perfume; it
makes all my blood begin to flow faster, and I quite forget
everything else." Helen stood for a few moments longer with her
countenance of joy; afterwards she went towards the flowers and
knelt down in front of them, choosing a bud that was very perfect.
"I always allow myself just one," she said, "just one for love," and
then she bent over it, whispering softly:
"Hush,'tis the lullaby time is singing,
Hush and heed not, for all things pass."
She plucked it and held it up before her, while the wind came up
behind her and tossed it about, and tossed her skirts; Helen,
radiant with laughter, glanced at her companion, saying gaily, "You
must hold it very lightly, just like this, you know, with one finger
and a thumb; and then you may toss it before you and lose yourself
in its perfectness, until it makes all your soul feel gracious. Do
you know, Mr. Howard, I think one could not live with the roses very
long without becoming beautiful?"
"That was what Plato thought," said the other with a smile, "and
many other wise people."
"I only wish that they might bloom forever," said the girl, "I
should try it."
Her companion had been lost in watching her, and now as she paused
he said: "Sometimes, I have been happy with the roses, too, Miss
Davis. Here is some music for your flower." She gazed at him
eagerly, and he recited, half laughingly:
"Wild rose, wild rose, sing me thy song,
Come, let us sing it together!--
I hear the silver streamlet call
From his home in the dewy heather."
"Let us sing the wild dance with the mountain breeze,
The rush of the mountain rain,
And the passionate clasp of the glowing sun
When the clouds are rent again."
"They tell us the time for the song is short,
That the wings of joy are fleet;
But the soul of the rose has bid me sing
That oh, while it lasts 'tis sweet!"
Afterwards Helen stood for a moment in silence; then a happy idea
came to her mind, and she turned towards the hedge of roses once
more and threw back her head upon the wind and took a deep breath
and began singing a very beautiful melody.
As it swelled out Helen's joy increased until her face was alight
with laughter, and very wonderful to see; she stood with the rose
tossing in one of her hands, and with the other pressed upon her
bosom,--"singing of summer in full-throated ease." One might have
been sure that the roses knew what she was saying, and that all
about her loved her for her song.
Yet the girl had just heard that the wings of joy are fleet; and she
was destined to find even then that it was true. For when she
stopped she turned to her companion with a happy smile and said, "Do
you know what that is that I was singing?" When he said "No," she
went on, "It is some wild-rose music that somebody made for me, I
think. It is in the same book as the 'Water Lily' that I played
you." And then in a flash the fearful memory of that evening came
over the girl, and made her start back; for a moment she stood
gazing at her friend, breathing very hard, and then she lowered her
eyes and whispered faintly to herself, "And it was not a month ago!"
There was a long silence after that, and when Helen looked up again
the joy was gone out of her face, and she was the same frightened
soul as before. Her lips were trembling a little as she said, "Mr.
Howard, I feel somehow that I have no right to be quite happy, for I
have done nothing to make myself good." Then, thinking of her
friend, she added, "I am spoiling your joy in the roses! Can you
forgive me for that?" As he answered that he could, Helen turned
away and said, "Let us go into the woods, because I do not like to
see them any more just now."
They passed beneath the deep shadows of the trees, and Helen led Mr.
Howard to the spring where she had been with Arthur. She sat down
upon the seat, and then there was a long silence, the girl gazing
steadfastly in front of her; she was thinking of the last time she
had been there, and how it was likely that the pale, wan look must
still be upon Arthur's face. Mr. Howard perhaps divined her thought,
for he watched her for a long time without speaking a word, and then
at last he said gently, as if to divert her attention, "Miss Davis,
I think that you are not the first one whom the sight of the wild
rose has made unhappy."
Helen turned and looked at him, and he gazed gravely into her eyes.
For at least a minute he said nothing; when he went on his voice was
much changed, and Helen knew not what to expect "Miss Davis," he
said, "God has given to the wild rose a very wonderful power of
beauty and joy; and perhaps the man who looks at it has been
dreaming all his life that somewhere he too might find such precious
things and have them for his own. When he sees the flower there
comes to him the fearful realization that with all the effort of his
soul he has never won the glory which the wild rose wears by
Heaven's free gift; and that perhaps in his loneliness and weakness
he has even forgotten all about such high perfection. So there rises
within him a yearning of all his being to forget his misery and his
struggling, and to lay all his worship and all his care before the
flower that is so sweet; he is afraid of his own sin and his own
baseness, and now suddenly he finds a way of escape,--that he will
live no longer for himself and his own happiness, but that his joy
shall be the rose's joy, and all his life the rose's life. Do you
think, my dear friend, that that might please the flower?"
"Yes," said Helen wonderingly, "it would be beautiful, if one could
The other spoke more gently still as he answered her, his voice
trembling slightly: "And do you not know, Miss Davis, that God has
made _you_ a rose?"
The girl started visibly; she whispered, "You say that to me, Mr.
Howard? Why do you say that to _me_?"
And he fixed his dark eyes upon her, his voice very low as he
responded: "I say it to you,--because I love you."
And Helen shrank back and stared at him; and then as she saw his
look her own dropped lower and lower and the color mounted to her
face. Mr. Howard paused for a moment or two and then very gently
took one of her hands in his, and went on:
"Helen," he said,--"you must let me call you Helen--listen to me a
while, for I have something to tell you. And since we both of us
love the roses so much, perhaps it will be beautiful to speak of
them still. I want to tell you how the man who loves the flower
needs not to love it for his own sake, but may love it for the
flower's; how one who really worships beauty, worships that which is
not himself, and the more he worships it the less he thinks of
himself. And Helen, you can never know how hard a struggle my life
has been, just to keep before me something to love,--how lonely a
struggle it has been, and how sad. I can only tell you that there
was very little strength left, and very little beauty, and that it
was all I could do to remember there was such a thing as joy in the
world, and that I had once possessed it. The music that moved me and
the music that I made was never your wild-rose singing, but such
yearning, restless music as you heard in the garden. I cannot tell
you how much I have loved that little piece that I played then;
perhaps it is my own sad heart that finds such breathing passion in
it, but I have sent it out into the darkness of many a night,
dreaming that somewhere it might waken an echo. For as long as the
heart beats it never ceases to hunger and to hope, and I felt that
somewhere in the world there must be left some living creature that
was beautiful and pure, and that might be loved. So it was that when
I saw you all my soul was roused within me; you were the fairest of
all God's creatures that I had ever seen. That was why I was so
bitter at first, and that was why all my heart went out to you when
I saw your suffering, and why it is to me the dearest memory of my
lifetime that I was able to help you. Afterwards when I saw how true
you were, I was happier than I had ever dared hope to be again; for
when I went back to my lonely little home, it was no longer to think
about myself and my sorrow and my dullness, but to think about
you,--to rejoice in your salvation, and to pray for you in your
trouble, and to wait for the day when I might see you again. And so
I knew that something had happened to me for which I had yearned, oh
so long and so painfully!--that my heart had been taken from me,
and that I was living in another life; I knew, dear Helen, that I
loved you. I said to myself long ago, before you got Arthur's
letter, that I would wait for the chance to say this to you, to take
your hand in mine and say: Sweet girl, the law of my life has been
that all my soul I must give to the best thing that ever I know; and
that thing is you. You must know that I love you, and how I love
you; that I lay myself at your feet and ask to help you and watch
over you and strengthen you all that I may. For your life is young
and there is much to be hoped for in it, and to my own poor self
there is no longer any duty that I owe. My heart is yours, and I ask
for nothing but that I may love you. Those were the words that I
first meant to say to you, Helen; and to ask you if it pleased you
that I should speak to you thus."
Mr. Howard stopped, and after he had waited a minute, the girl
raised her eyes to his face. She did not answer him, but she put out
her other hand and laid it very gently in his own.
There was a long silence before the man continued; at last he said,
"Dear Helen, that was what I wished to say to you, and no more than
that, because I believed that I was old, and that my heart was dying
within me. But oh, when that letter came from Arthur, it was as if I
heard the voice of my soul crying out to me that my life had just
begun, that I had still to love. As I came out here into the forest
with you to-day, my soul was full of a wondrous thought, a thought
that brought more awe and rapture than words have power to tell; it
was that this precious maiden was not made to be happy alone, but
that some day she and all her being would go out to someone, to
someone who could win her heart, who could love her and worship her
as she deserved. And my soul cried out to me that _I_ could worship
you; the thought wakened in me a wilder music than ever I had heard
in my life before. Here as I kneel before you and hold your hands in
mine, dear Helen, all my being cries out to you to come to me; for
in your sorrow your heart has been laid bare to my sight, and I have
seen only sweetness and truth. To keep it, and serve it, and feed it
upon thoughts of beauty, would be all that I could care for in life;
and the thought of winning you for mine, so that all your life I
might cherish you, is to me a joy which brings tears into my eyes.
Oh, dearest girl, I must live before you with that prayer, and tell
me what you will, I must still pray it. Nor do I care how long you
ask me to wait; my life has now but one desire, to love you in such
a way as best may please you, to love you as much as you will let
me. Helen, I have told all myself to you, and here as we gaze into
each other's eyes our souls are bare to each other. As I say those
words they bring to me a thought that sweeps away all my
being,--that perhaps the great sorrow you have known has chastened
your heart so that you too wish to forget yourself, and worship at
the shrine of love; I see you trembling, and I think that perhaps it
may be that, and that it needs only a word of mine to bring your
soul to me! What that thought is I cannot tell you; but oh, it has
been the dream of my life, it has been the thing for which I have
lived, and for which I was dying. If I could win you for mine,
Helen, for mine--and take you away with me, away from all else but
love! The thought of it chokes me, and fills me with mighty anguish
of yearning; and my soul burns for you, and I stretch out my arms to
you; and I cry out to you that the happiness of my life is in your
hands--that I love you--oh, that I love you!"
As the man had been speaking he had sunk down before Helen, still
clasping her hands in his own. A great trembling had seized upon the
girl and her bosom was rising and falling swiftly; but she mastered
herself with a desperate effort and looked up, staring at him. "You
tell me that you love me," she gasped, "you tell me that I am
perfect! And yet you know what I have done--you have seen all my
Her voice broke, and she could not speak a word more; she bowed her
head and the trembling came again, while the other clasped her hands
more tightly and bent towards her. "Helen," he said, "I call you to
a sacred life that forgets all things but love. Precious girl, my
soul cries out to me that I have a right to you, that you were made
that I might kneel before you; it cries out to me, 'Speak the word
and claim her, claim her for your own, for no man could love her
more than you love her. Tell her that all your life you have waited
for this sacred hour to come; tell her that you have power and life,
and that all your soul is hers!' And oh, dear heart, if only you
could tell me that you might love me, that years of waiting might
win you, it would be such happiness as I have never dared to dream.
Tell me, Helen, tell me if it be true!"
And the girl lifted her face to him, and he saw that all her soul
had leaped into her eyes. Her bosom heaved, and she flung back her
head and stretched wide her arms, and cried aloud, "Oh, David, I do
He clasped her in his arms and pressed her upon his bosom in an
ecstasy of joy, and kissed the lips that had spoken the wonderful
words. "Tell me," he exclaimed, "you will be mine?" And she answered
For that there was no answer but the clasp of his love. At last he
whispered, "Oh, Helen, a lifetime of worship can never repay you for
words like those. My life, my soul, tell me once more, for you
cannot be mine too utterly; tell me once more that you are mine!"
And suddenly she leaned back her head and looked into his burning
eyes, and began swiftly, her voice choking: "Oh, listen, listen to
me!--if it be a pleasure to you to know how you have this heart. I
tell you, wonderful man that God has given me for mine, that I loved
you the first word that I heard you speak in the garden. You were
all that I knew of in life to yearn for--you were a wonderful light
that had flashed upon me and blinded me; and when I saw my own
vileness in it I flung myself down on my face, and felt a more
fearful despair than I had ever dreamed could torture a soul. I
would have crawled to you upon my knees and groveled in the dirt and
begged you to have mercy upon me; and afterwards when you lifted me
up, I could have kissed the ground that you trod. But oh, I knew one
thing, and it was all that gave me courage ever to look upon you; I
heard the sacred voice of my womanhood within me, telling me that I
was not utterly vile, because it was in my ignorance that I had done
my sin; and that if ever I had known what love really was, I should
have laughed at the wealth of empires. To win your heart I would
fling away all that I ever cared for in life--my beauty, my health,
my happiness--yes, I would fling away my soul! And when you talked
to me of love and told me that its sacrifice was hard, I--I, little
girl that I am--could have told you that you were talking as a
child; and I thought, 'Oh, if only this man, instead of urging me to
love another and win my peace, if only _he_ were not afraid to trust
me, if only he were willing that I should love _him!_' And this
afternoon when I set out with you, do you know what was the real
thing that lay at the bottom of my heart and made me so happy? I
said to myself, 'It may take months, and it may take years, but
there is a crown in life that I may win--that I may win forever!
And this man shall tell me my duty, and night and day I shall watch
and pray to do it, and do more; and he will not know why I do it,
but it shall be for nothing but the love of him; and some day the
worship that is in his heart shall come to me, tho it find me upon
my death-bed.' And now you take me and tell me that I have only to
love you; and you frighten me, and I cannot believe that it is true!
But oh, you are pilot and master, and you know, and I will believe
you--only tell me this wonderful thing again that I may be
sure--that in spite of all my weakness and my helplessness and my
failures, you love me--and you trust me--and you ask for me. If
that is really the truth, David,--tell me if that is really the
David whispered to her, "Yes, yes; that is the truth;" and the girl
went on swiftly, half sobbing with her emotion:
"If you tell me that, what more do I need to know? You are my life
and my soul, and you call me. For the glory of your wonderful love I
will leave all the rest of the world behind me, and you may take me
where you will and when you will, and do with me what you please.
And oh, you who frightened me so about my wrongness and told me how
hard it was to be right--do you know how easy it is for me to say
those words? And do you know how happy I am--because I love you and
you are mine? David--my David--my heart has been so full,--so wild
and thirsty,--that now when you tell me that you want all my love,
it is a word of glory to me, it tells me to be happy as never in my
life have I been happy before!"
And David bent towards her and kissed her upon her beautiful lips
and upon her forehead; and he pressed the trembling form closer upon
him, so that the heaving of her bosom answered to his own. "Listen,
my love, my precious heart," he whispered, "I will tell you about
the vision of my life, now when you and I are thus heart to heart.
Helen, my soul cries out that this union must be perfect, in mind
and soul and body a blending of all ourselves; so that we may live
in each other's hearts, and seek each other's perfection; so that we
may have nothing one from the other, but be one and the same soul in
the glory of our love. That is such a sacred thought, my life, my
darling; it makes all my being a song! And as I clasp you to me
thus, and kiss you, I feel that I have never been so near to God. I
have worshiped all my days in the great religion of love, and now as
the glory of it burns in my heart I feel lifted above even us, and
see that it is because of Him that we love each other so; because He
is one, our souls may be one, actually and really one, so that each
loses himself and lives the other's life. I know that I love you so
that I can fling my whole self away, and give up every thought in
life but you. As I tell you that, my heart is bursting; oh! drink in
this passion of mine, and tell me once more that you love me!"
Helen had still been leaning back her head and gazing into his eyes,
all her soul uplifted in the glory of her emotion; there was a wild
look upon her face,--and her breath was coming swiftly. For a moment
more she gazed at him, and then she buried her face on his shoulder,
crying, "Mine--mine!" For a long time she clung to him, breathing
the word and quite lost in the joy of it; until at last she leaned
back her head and gazed up into his eyes once more.
"Oh, David," she said, "what can I answer you? I can only tell you
one thing, that here I am in your arms, and that I am yours--yours!
And I love you, oh, before God I love you with all my soul! And I am
so happy--oh, David, so happy! Dearest heart, can you not see how
you have won me, so that I cannot live without you, so that anything
you ask of me you may have? I cannot tell you any more, because I am
trembling so, and I am so weak; for this has been more than I can
bear, it is as if all my being were melting within me. But oh, I
never thought that a human being could be so happy, or that to love
could be such a world of wonder and joy."
Helen, as she had been speaking, had sunk down exhaustedly, letting
her head fall forward upon her bosom; she lay quite limp in David's
arms, while little by little the agitation that had so shaken her
subsided. In the meantime he was bending over the golden hair that
was so wild and so beautiful, and there were tears in his eyes. When
at last the girl was quiet she leaned back her head upon his arm and
looked up into his face, and he bent over her and pressed a kiss
upon her mouth. Helen gazed into his eyes and asked him:
"David, do you really know what you have done to this little maiden,
how fearfully and how madly you have made her yours? I never dreamed
of what it could mean to love before; when men talked to me of it I
laughed at them, and the touch of their hands made me shrink. And
now here I am, and everything about me is changed. Take me away with
you, David, and keep me--I do not care what becomes of me, if only
you let me have your heart."
The girl closed her eyes and lay still again for a long time; when
she began to speak once more it was softly, and very slowly, and
half as if in a dream: "David," she whispered, "_my_ David, I am
tired; I think I never felt so helpless. But oh, dear heart, it
seems a kind of music in my soul,--that I have cast all my sorrow
away, and that I may be happy again, and be at peace--at peace!" And
the girl repeated the words to herself more and more gently, until
her voice had died away altogether; the other was silent for a long
time, gazing down upon the perfect face, and then at last he kissed
the trembling eyelids till they opened once again.
"Sweet girl," he whispered, "as God gives me life you shall never be
sorry for that beautiful faith, or sorry that you have laid bare
your heart to me." Long afterwards, having watched her without
speaking, he went on with a smile, "I wonder if you would not be
happier yet, dearest, if I should tell you all the beautiful things
that I mean to do with you. For now that you are all mine, I am
going to carry you far away; you will like that, will you not,
He saw a little of an old light come back into Helen's eyes as he
asked that question. "What difference does it make?" she asked,
David laughed and went on: "Very well then, you shall have nothing
to do with it. I shall take you in my arms just as you are. And I
have a beautiful little house, a very little house among the wildest
of mountains, and there we shall live this wonderful summer, all
alone with our wonderful love. And there we shall have nature to
worship, and beautiful music, and beautiful books to read. You shall
never have anything more to think about all your life but making
yourself perfect and beautiful."
The girl had raised herself up and was gazing at him with interest
as he spoke thus. But he saw a swift frown cross her features at his
last words, and he stopped and asked her what was the matter.
Helen's reply was delivered very gravely. "What I was to think
about," she said, "was settled long ago, and I wish you would not
say wicked things like that to me."
A moment later she laughed at herself a little; but then, pushing
back her tangled hair from her forehead, she went on seriously:
"David, what you tell me of is all that I ever thought of enjoying
in life; and yet I am so glad that you did not say anything about it
before! For I want to love you because of _you_, and I want you to
know that I would follow you and worship you and live in your love
if there were nothing else in life for you to offer me. And, David,
do you not see that you are never going to make this poor, restless
creature happy until you have given her something stern to do,
something that she may know she is doing just for your love and for
nothing else, bearing some effort and pain to make you happy?"
The girl had put her hands upon his shoulders, and was gazing
earnestly into his eyes; he looked at her for a moment, and then
responded in a low voice: "Helen, dearest, let us not play with
fearful words, and let us not tempt sorrow. My life has not been all
happiness, and you will have pain enough to share with me, I fear,
poor little girl." She thought in a flash of his sickness, and she
turned quite pale as she looked at him; but then she bent forward
gently and folded her arms about him, and for a minute more there
There were tears standing in David's eyes when she looked at him
again. But he smiled in spite of them and kissed her once more, and
said: "Sweetheart, it is not wrong that we should be happy while we
can; and come what may, you know, we need not ever cease to love.
When I hear such noble words from you I think I have a medicine to
make all sickness light; so be bright and beautiful once more for my
Helen smiled and answered that she would, and then her eye chanced
to light upon the ground, where she saw the wild rose lying
forgotten; she stooped down and picked it up, and then knelt on the
grass beside David and pressed it against his bosom while she gazed
up into his face. "Once," she said, smiling tenderly, "I read a
pretty little stanza, and if you will love me more for it, I will
tell it to you.
"'The sweetest flower that blows
I give you as we part,
To you, it is a rose,
To me, it is a heart.'"
And the man took the flower, and took the hands too, and kissed
them; then a memory chanced to come to him, and he glanced about him
on the moss-covered forest floor. He saw some little clover-like
leaves that all forest-lovers love, and he stooped and picked one of
the gleaming white blossoms and laid it in Helen's hands. "Dearest,"
he said, "it is beautiful to make love with the flowers; I chanced
to think how I once _wrote_ a pretty little poem, and if you will
love me more for it, I will tell it to _you_." Then while the girl
gazed at him happily, he went on to add, "This was long before I
knew you, dear, and when I worshiped the flowers. One of them was
this little wood sorrel.
I found it in the forest dark,
A blossom of the snow;
I read upon its face so fair,
No heed of human woe.
Yet when I sang my passion song
And when the sun rose higher,
The flower flung wide its heart to me,
And lo! its heart was fire."
Helen gazed at him a moment after he finished, and then she took the
little flower and laid it gently back in the group from which he had
plucked it; afterwards she looked up and laughed. "I want that poem
for myself," she said, and drew closer to him, and put her arms
about him; he gazed into her upraised face, and there was a look of
wonder in his eyes.
"Oh, precious girl," he said, "I wonder if you know what a vision of
beauty God has made you! I wonder if you know how fair your eyes
are, if you know what glory a man may read in your face! Helen, when
I look upon you I know that God has meant to pay me for all my years
of pain; and it is all that I can do to think that you are really,
really mine. Do you not know that to gaze upon you will make me a
mad, mad creature for years and years and years?"
Helen answered him gravely: "With all my beauty, David, I am really,
really yours; and I love you so that I do not care anything in the
world about being beautiful, except because it makes you happy; to
do that I shall be always just as perfect as I may, thro all those
mad years and years and years!" Then, as she glanced about her, she
added: "We must go pretty soon, because it is late; but oh, before
we do, sweetheart, will you kiss me once more for all those years
and years and years?"
And David bent over and clasped her in his arms again,
Sie ist mir ewig, ist mir
immer, Erb und Eigen, ein und all!
END OF PART I
"When summer gathers up her robes of glory,
And like a dream of beauty glides away."
"Across the hills and far away,
Beyond their utmost purple rim,
And deep into the dying day
The happy princess follow'd him."
It was several months after Helen's marriage. The scene was a little
lake, in one of the wildest parts of the Adirondacks, surrounded by
tall mountains which converted it into a basin in the land, and
walled in by a dense growth about the shores, which added still more
to its appearance of seclusion. In only one place was the scenery
more open, where there was a little vale between two of the hills,
and where a mountain torrent came rushing down the steep incline.
There the underbrush had been cleared away, and beneath the great
forest trees a house constructed, a little cabin built of logs, and
in harmony with the rest of the scene.
It was only large enough for two or three rooms downstairs, and as
many above, and all were furnished in the plainest way. About the
main room there were shelves of books, and a piano and a well-chosen
music-library. It was the little home which for a dozen years or
more David Howard had occupied alone, and where he and Helen had
spent the golden summer of their love.
It was late in the fall then, and the mountains were robed in
scarlet and orange. Helen was standing upon the little piazza, a
shawl flung about her shoulders, because it was yet early in the
morning. She was talking to her father, who had been paying them a
few days' visit, and was taking a last look about him at the fresh
morning scene before it was time for him to begin his long homeward
Helen was clad in a simple dress, and with the prettiest of white
sun bonnets tied upon her head; she was browned by the sun, and
looked a picture of health and happiness as she held her father's
arm in hers. "And then you are quite sure that you are happy?" he
was saying, as he looked at her radiant face.
She echoed the word--"Happy?" and then she stretched out her arms
and took a deep breath and echoed it again. "I am so happy," she
laughed, "I never know what to do! You did not stay long enough for
me to tell you, Daddy!" She paused for a moment, and then went on,
"I think there never was anybody in the world so full of joy. For
this is such a beautiful little home, you know, and we live such a
beautiful life; and oh, we love each other so that the days seem to
fly by like the wind! I never even have time to think how happy I
"Your husband really loves you as much as he ought," said the
father, gazing at her tenderly.
"I think God never put on earth another such man as David," replied,
the girl, with sudden gravity. "He is so noble, and so unselfish in
every little thing; I see it in his eyes every instant that all his
life is lived for nothing but to win my love. And it just draws the
heart right out of me, Daddy, so that I could live on my knees
before him, just trying to tell him how much I love him. I cannot
ever love him enough; but it grows--it grows like great music, and
every day my heart is more full!"
Helen was standing with her head thrown back, gazing ahead of her;
then she turned and laughed, and put her arm about her father again,
saying: "Haven't you just seen what a beautiful life we live? And
oh, Daddy, most of the time I am afraid because I married David,
when I see how much he knows. Just think of it,--he has lived all
alone ever since he was young, and done nothing but read and study.
Now he brings all those treasures to me, to make me happy with, and
he frightens me." She stopped for a moment and then continued
earnestly: "I have to be able to go with him everywhere, you know, I
can't expect him to stay back all his life for me; and that makes me
work very hard. David says that there is one duty in the world
higher than love, and that is the duty of labor,--that no soul in
the world can be right for one instant if it is standing still and
is satisfied, even with the soul it loves. He told me that before he
married me, but at first when we came up here he was so impatient
that he quite frightened me; but now I have learned to understand it
all, and we are wonderfully one in everything. Daddy, dear, isn't it
a beautiful way to live, to be always striving, and having something
high and sacred in one's mind? And to make all of one's life from
one's own heart, and not to be dependent upon anything else? David
and I live away off here in the mountains, and we never have
anything of what other people call comforts and enjoyments--we have
nothing but a few books and a little music, and Nature, and our own
love; and we are so wonderfully happy with just those that nothing
else in the world could make any difference, certainly nothing that
money could buy us."
"I was worried when you wrote me that you did not even have a
servant," said Mr. Davis.
"It isn't any trouble," laughed Helen. (David's man lived in the
village half a mile away and came over every day to bring what was
necessary.) "This is such a tiny little cottage, and David and I are
very enthusiastic people, and we want to be able to make lots of
noise and do just as we please. We have so much music, you know,
Daddy, and of course David is quite a wild man when he gets excited
Helen stopped and looked at her father and laughed; then she rattled
merrily on: "We are both of us just two children, for David is so
much in love with me that it makes him as young as I am; and we are
away off from everything, and so we can be as happy with each other
as we choose. We have this little lake all to ourselves, you know;
it's getting cold now, and pretty soon we'll have to fly away to the
south, but all this summer long we used to get up in the morning in
time to see the sun rise, and to have a wonderful swim. And then we
have so many things to read and study; and David talks to me, and
tells me all that he knows; and besides all that we have to tell
each other how much we love each other, which takes a fearful amount
of time. It seems that neither of us can ever quite realize the
glory of it, and when we think of it, it is a wonder that nobody
ever told. Is not that a beautiful way to live, Daddy dear, and to
"Yes," said Mr. Davis, "that is a very beautiful way indeed. And I
think that my little girl has all that I could wish her to have."
"Oh, there is no need to tell me that!" laughed Helen. "All I wish
is that I might really be like David and be worth his love; I never
think about anything else all day." The girl stood for a moment
gazing at her father, and then, looking more serious, she put her
arm about him and whispered softly: "And oh, Daddy, it is too
wonderful to talk about, but I ought to tell you; for some day by
and by God is going to send us a new, oh, a new, new wonder!" And
Helen blushed beautifully as her father gazed into her eyes.
He took her hand tenderly in his own, and the two stood for some
time in silence. When it was broken it was by the rattling of the
wagon which had come to take Mr. Davis away.
David came out then to bid his guest good-by, and the three stood
for a few minutes conversing. It was not very difficult for, Helen
to take leave of her father, for she would see him, so she said, in
a week or two more. She stood waving her hands to him, until the
bumping wagon was lost to sight in the woods, and then she turned
and took David's hand in hers and gazed across the water at the
gorgeous-colored mountains. The lake was sparkling in the sunlight,
and the sky was bright and clear, but Helen's thoughts took a
different turn from that.
All summer long she had been rejoicing in the glory of the landscape
about her, in the glowing fern and the wild-flowers underfoot, and
in the boundless canopy of green above, with its unresting
song-birds; now there were only the shrill cries of a pair of
blue-jays to be heard, and every puff of wind that came brought down
a shower of rustling leaves to the already thickly-covered ground.
"Is it not sad, David," the girl said, "to think how the beauty
should all be going?"
David did not answer her for a moment. "When I think of it," he said
at last, "it brings me not so much sadness as a strange feeling of
mystery. Only stop, and think of what that vanished springtime
meant--think that it was a presence of living, feeling, growing
creatures,--infinite, unthinkable masses of them, robing all the
world; and that now the life and the glory of it all is suddenly
gone back into nothingness, that it was all but a fleeting vision, a
phantom presence on the earth. I never realize that without coming
to think of all the other things of life, and that they too are no
more real than the springtime flowers; and so it makes me feel as if
I were walking upon air, and living in a dream."
Helen was leaning against a post of the piazza, her eyes fixed upon
David intently. "Does that not give a new meaning to the vanished
spring-time?" he asked her; and she replied in a wondering whisper,
"Yes," and then gazed at him for a long time.
"David," she said at last, "it is fearful to think of a thing like
that. What does it all mean? What causes it?"
"Men have been asking that helpless question since the dawn of
time," he answered, "we only know what we see, this whirling and
weaving of shadows, with its sacred facts of beauty and love."
Helen looked at him thoughtfully a moment, and then, recollecting
something she had heard from her father, she said, "But, David, if
God be a mystery like that, how can there be any religion?"
"What we may fancy God to be makes no difference," he answered.
"That which we know is always the same, we have always the love and
always the beauty. All men's religion is but the assertion that the
source of these sacred things must be infinitely sacred, and that
whatever may happen to us, that source can suffer no harm; that we
live by a power stronger than ourselves, and that has no need of
Helen was looking at her husband anxiously; then suddenly she asked
him, "But tell me then, David; you do not believe in heaven? You do
not believe that our souls are immortal?" As he answered her in the
negative she gave a slight start, and knitted her brows; and after
another pause she demanded, "You do not believe in revealed religion
David could not help smiling, recognizing the voice of his clerical
father-in-law; when he answered, however, he was serious again.
"Some day, perhaps, dear Helen," he said, "I will tell you all about
what I think as to such things. But very few of the world's real
thinkers believe in revealed religions any more--they have come to
see them simply as guesses of humanity at God's great sacred
mystery, and to believe that God's way of revealing Himself to men
is through the forms of life itself. As to the question of
immortality that you speak of, I have always felt that death is a
sign of the fact that God is infinite and perfect, and that we are
but shadows in his sight; that we live by a power that is not our
own, and seek for beauty that is not our own, and that each instant
of our lives is a free gift which we can only repay by thankfulness
He paused for a moment, and the girl, who had still been gazing at
him thoughtfully, went on, "Father used to talk about those things
to me, David, and he showed me how the life of men is all spent in
suffering and struggling, and that therefore faith teaches us---"
"Yes, dearest," the other put in, "I know all that you are going to
say; I have read these arguments very often, you know. But suppose
that I were to tell you that I think suffering and struggling is the
very essence of the soul, and that what faith teaches us is that the
suffering and struggling are sacred, and not in the least that they
are some day to be made as nothing? Dearest, if it is true that the
soul makes this life what it is, a life of restless seeking for an
infinite, would it not make the same life anywhere else? Do you
remember reading with me Emerson's poem about Uriel, the seraph who
sang before God's throne,--how even that could not please him, and
how he left it to plunge into the struggle of things imperfect; and
how ever after the rest of the seraphim were afraid of Uriel? Do you
think, dearest, that this life of love and labor that you and I live
our own selves needs anything else to justify it? The life that I
lived all alone was much harder and more full of pain than this, but
I never thought that it needed any rewarding."
David stopped and stood gazing ahead of him thoughtfully; when he
continued his voice was lower and more solemn. "These things are
almost too sacred to talk of, Helen," he said; "but there is one
doubt that I have known about this, one thing that has made me
wonder if there ought not to be another world after all. I never
sympathized with any man's longing for heaven, but I can understand
how a man might be haunted by some fearful baseness of his own
self,--something which long years of effort had taught him he could
not ever expiate by the strength of his own heart,--and how he could
pray that there might be some place where rightness might be won at
last, cost what it would."
The man's tone had been so strange as he spoke that it caused Helen
to start; suddenly she came closer to him and put her hands upon his
shoulders and gazed into his eyes. "David," she whispered, "listen
to me a moment."
"Yes, dear," he said, "what is it?"
"Was it because of yourself that you said those words?"
He was silent for a moment, gazing into her anxious eyes; then he
bowed his head and said in a faint voice, "Yes, dear, it was because
And the girl, becoming suddenly very serious, went on, "Do you
remember, David, a long time ago--the time that I was leaving Aunt
Polly's--that you told me how you knew what it was to have
something very terrible on one's conscience? I have not ever said
anything about that, but I have never forgotten it. Was it that that
you thought of then?"
"Yes, dear, it was that," answered the other, trembling slightly.
Helen stooped down upon her knees and put her arms about him, gazing
up pleadingly into his face. "Dearest David," she whispered, "is it
right to refuse to tell me about that sorrow?"
There was a long silence, after which the man replied slowly, "I
have not ever refused to tell you, sweetheart; it would be very
fearful to tell, but I have not any secrets from you; and if you
wished it, you should know. But, dear, it was long, long ago, and
nothing can ever change it now. It would only make us sad to know
it, so why should we talk of it?"
He stopped, and Helen gazed long and earnestly into his face.
"David," she said, "it is not possible for me to imagine you ever
doing anything wrong, you are so good."
"Perhaps," said David, "it is because you are so good yourself." But
Helen interrupted him at that with a quick rejoinder: "Do you forget
that I too have a sorrow upon my conscience?" Afterwards, as she saw
that the eager remark caused the other to smile in spite of himself,
she checked him gravely with the words, "Have you really forgotten
so soon? Do you suppose I do not ever think now of how I treated
poor Arthur, and how I drove away from me the best friend of my
girlhood? He wrote me that he would think of me no more, but, David,
sometimes I wonder if it were not just an angry boast, and if he
might not yet be lonely and wretched, somewhere in this great cold
world where I cannot ever find him or help him."
The girl paused; David was regarding her earnestly, and for a long
time neither of them spoke. Then suddenly the man bent down, and
pressed a kiss upon her forehead. "Let us only love each other,
dear," he whispered, "and try to keep as right as we can while the
time is given us."
There was a long silence after that while the two sat gazing out
across the blue lake; when Helen spoke again it was to say, "Some
day you must tell me all about it, David, because I can help you;
but let us not talk about these dreadful things now." She stopped
again, and afterwards went on thoughtfully, "I was thinking still of
what you said about immortality, and how very strange it is to think
of ceasing to be. Might it not be, David, that heaven is a place not
of reward, but of the same ceaseless effort as you spoke of?"
"Ah, yes," said the other, "that is the thought of 'the wages of
going on.' And of course, dear, we would all like those wages; there
is no thought that tempts me so much as the possibility of being
able to continue the great race forever; but I don't see how we have
the least right to demand it, or that the facts give us the least
reason to suppose that we will get it. It seems to me simply a
fantastic and arbitrary fancy; the re-creating of a worn-out life in
that way. I do not think, dearest, that I am in the least justified
in claiming an eternity of vision because God gives me an hour; and
when I ask Him the question in my own heart I learn simply that I am
a wretched, sodden creature that I do not crowd that hour with all
infinity and go quite mad at the sight of the beauty that He flings
wide before me."
Helen did not reply for a while, and then she asked: "And you think,
David, that our life justifies itself no matter how much suffering
may be in it?"
"I think, dearest," was his reply, "that the soul's life is
struggle, and that the soul's life is sacred; and that to be right,
to struggle to be right, is not only life's purpose, but also life's
reward; and that each instant of such righteousness is its own
warrant, tho the man be swept out of existence in the next." Then
David stopped, and when he went on it was in a lower voice. "Dear
Helen," he said, "after I have told you what I feel I deserve in
life, you can understand my not wishing to talk lightly about such
things as suffering. Just now, as I sit here at my ease, and in fact
all through my poor life, I have felt about such sacred words as
duty and righteousness that it would be just as well if they did not
ever pass my lips. But there have come to me one or two times, dear,
when I dared a little of the labor of things, and drank a drop or
two of the wine of the spirit; and those times have lived to haunt
me and make me at least not a happy man in my unearned ease. There
come to me still just once in a while hours when I get sight of the
gleam, hours that make me loathe all that in my hours of comfort I
loved; and there comes over me then a kind of Titanic rage, that I
should go down a beaten soul because I have not the iron strength of
will to lash my own self to life, and tear out of my own heart a
little of what power is in it. At such times, Helen, I find just
this one wish in my mind,--that God would send to me, cost what it
might, some of the fearful experience that rouses a man's soul
within him, and makes him live his life in spite of all his dullness
and his fear."
David had not finished, but he halted, because he saw a strange look
upon the girl's face. She did not answer him at once, but sat gazing
at him; and then she said in a very grave voice, "David, I do not
like to hear such words as that from you."
"What words, dearest?"
"Do you mean actually that it sometimes seems to you wrong to live
happily with me as you have?"
David laid his hand quietly upon hers, watching for a minute her
anxious countenance. Then he said in a low voice: "You ought not to
ask me about such things, dear, or blame me for them. Sometimes I
have to face the very cruel thought that I ought not ever to have
linked my fate to one so sweet and gentle as you, because what I
ought to be doing in the world to win a right conscience is
something so hard and so stern that it would mean that I could never
be really happy all my life."
David was about to go on, but he stopped again because of Helen's
look of displeasure. "David," she whispered, "that is the most
unloving thing that I have ever heard from you!"
"And you must blame me, dear, because of it?" he asked.
"I suppose," Helen answered, "that you would misunderstand me as
long as I chose to let you. Do you not suppose that I too have a
conscience,--do you suppose that I want any happiness it is wrong
for us to take, or that I would not dare to go anywhere that your
duty took you? And do you suppose that anything could be so painful
to me as to know that you do not trust me, that you are afraid to
live your life, and do what is your duty, before me?"
David bent down suddenly and pressed a kiss upon the girl's
forehead. "Precious little heart," he whispered, "those words are
"I did not say them because they were beautiful," answered Helen
gravely; "I said them because I meant them, and because I wanted you
to take them in earnest. I want to know what it is that you and I
ought to be doing, instead of enjoying our lives; and after you have
told me what it is I can tell you one thing--that I shall not be
happy again in my life until it is done."
David watched her thoughtfully a while before he answered, because
he saw that she was very much in earnest. Then he said sadly,
"Dearest Helen, perhaps the reason that I have never been able all
through my life to satisfy my soul is the pitiful fact that I have
not the strength to dare any of the work of other men; I have had
always to chafe under the fact that I must choose between nourishing
my poor body, or ceasing to live. I have learned that all my
power--and more too, as it sometimes seemed,--was needed to bear
bravely the dreadful trials that God has sent to me."
Helen paled slightly; she felt his hand trembling upon hers, and she
remembered his illness at her aunt's, about which she had never had
the courage to speak to him. "And so, dear heart," he went on
slowly, "let us only be sure that we are keeping our lives pure and
strong, that we are living in the presence of high thoughts and
keeping the mastery of ourselves, and saying and really meaning that
we live for something unselfish; so that if duty and danger come, we
shall not prove cowards, and if suffering comes we should not give
way and lose our faith. Does that please you, dear Helen?"
The girl pressed his hand silently in hers. After a while he went on
still more solemnly: "Some time," he said, "I meant to talk to you
about just that, dearest, to tell you how stern and how watchful we
ought to be. It is very sad to me to see what happens when the great
and fearful realities of life disclose themselves to good and kind
people who have been living without any thought of such things. I
feel that it is very wrong to live so, that if we wished to be right
we would hold the high truths before us, no matter how much labor it
"What truths do you mean?" asked Helen earnestly; and he answered
her: "For one, the very fearful fact of which I have just been
talking--that you and I are two bubbles that meet for an instant
upon the whirling stream of time. Suppose, sweetheart, that I were
to tell you that I do not think you and I would be living our lives
truly, until we were quite sure that we could bear to be parted
forever without losing our faith in God's righteousness?"
Helen turned quite white, and clutched the other's hands in hers;
she had not once thought of actually applying what he had said to
her. "David! David!" she cried, "No!"
The man smiled gently as he brushed back the hair from her forehead
and gazed into her eyes. "And when you asked for sternness, dear,"
he said, "was it that you did not know what the word meant? Life is
real, dear Helen, and the effort it demands is real effort."
The girl did not half hear these last words; she was still staring
at her husband. "Listen to me, David," she said at last, still
holding his hand tightly in hers, her voice almost a whisper; "I
could bear anything for you, David, I know that I could bear
_anything_; I could really die for you, I say that with all my
soul,--that was what I was thinking of when you spoke of death. But
David, if you were to be taken from me,--if you were to be taken
from me--" and she stopped, unable to find a word more.
"Perhaps it will be just as well not to tell me, dear heart," he
said to her, gently.
"David," she went on more strenuously yet, "listen to me--you must
not ever ask me to think of that! Do you hear me? For, oh, it cannot
be true, it cannot be true, David, that you could be taken from me
forever! What would I have left to live for?"
"Would you not have the great wonderful God?" asked the other
gently--"the God who made me and all that was lovable in me, and
made you, and would demand that you worship him?" But Helen only
shook her head once more and answered, "It could not be true,
David,--no, no!" Then she added in a faint voice, "What would be the
use of my having lived?"
The man bent forward and kissed her again, and kissed away a little
of the frightened, anxious look upon her face. "My dear," he said
with a gentle smile, "perhaps I was wrong to trouble you with such
fearful things after all. Let me tell you instead a thought that
once came to my mind, and that has stayed there as the one I should
like to call the most beautiful of all my life; it may help to
answer that question of yours about the use of having lived. Men
love life so much, Helen dear, that they cannot ever have enough of
it, and to keep it and build it up they make what we call the arts;
this thought of mine is about one of them, about music, the art that
you and I love most. For all the others have been derived from
things external, but music was made out of nothing, and exists but
for its one great purpose, and therefore is the most spiritual of
all of them. I like to say that it is time made beautiful, and so a
shadow picture of the soul; it is this, because it can picture
different degrees of speed and of power, because it can breathe and
throb, can sweep and soar, can yearn and pray,--because, in short,
everything that happens in the heart can happen in music, so that we
may lose ourselves in it and actually live its life, or so that a
great genius can not merely tell us about himself, but can make all
the best hours of his soul actually a part of our own. This thought
that I said was beautiful came to me from noticing how perfectly the
art was one with that which it represented; so that we may say not
only that music is life, but that life is music. Music exists
because it is beautiful, dear Helen, and because it brings an
instant of the joy of beauty to our hearts, and for no other reason
whatever; it may be music of happiness or of sorrow, of achievement
or only of hope, but so long as it is beautiful it is right, and it
makes no difference, either, that it cost much labor of men, or that
when it is gone it is gone forever. And dearest, suppose that the
music not only was beautiful, but knew that it was beautiful; that
it was not only the motion of the air, but also the joy of our
hearts; might it not then be its own excuse, just one strain of it
that rose in the darkness, and quivered and died away again
When David had spoken thus he stopped and sat still for a while,
gazing at his wife; then seeing the anxious look still in possession
of her face, he rose suddenly by way of ending their talk.
"Dearest," he said, smiling, "it is wrong of me, perhaps, to worry
you about such very fearful things as those; let us go in, and find
something to do that is useful, and not trouble ourselves with them
"O Freude, habe Acht!
Dass nicht der Schmerz erwacht!"
It was late on the afternoon of the day that Helen's father had left
for home, and David was going into the village with some letters to
mail. Helen was not feeling very well herself and could not go, but
she insisted upon his going, for she watched over his exercise and
other matters of health with scrupulous care. She had wrapped him up
in a heavy overcoat, and was kneeling beside his chair with her arms
"Tell me, dear," she asked him, for the third or fourth time, "are
you sure this will be enough to keep you warm?--for the nights are
so very cold, you know; I do not like you to come back alone
"I don't think you would be much of a protection against danger,"
"But it will be dark when you get back, dear."
"It will only be about dusk," was the reply; "I don't mind that."
Helen gazed at him wistfully for a minute, and then she went on: "Do
you not know what is the matter with me, David? You frightened me
to-day, and I cannot forget what you said. Each time that it comes
to my mind it makes me shudder. Why should you say such fearful
things to me?"
"I am very sorry," said the other, gently.
"You simply must not talk to me so!" cried the girl; "if you do you
will make me so that I cannot bear to leave you for an instant. For
those thoughts make my love for you simply desperate, David; I cry
out to myself that I never have loved you enough, never told you
enough!" And then she added pleadingly, "But oh, you know that I
love you, do you not, dear? Tell me."
"Yes, I know it," said the other gently, taking her in his arms and
"Come back soon," Helen went on, "and I will tell you once more how
much I do; and then we can be happy again, and I won't be afraid any
more. Please let me be happy, won't you, David?"
"Yes, love, I will," said the man with a smile. "I do not think that
I was wise ever to trouble you."
Helen was silent for a while, then as a sudden thought occurred to
her she added: "David, I meant to tell you something--do you know if
those horrible thoughts keep haunting me, it is just this that they
will make me do; you said that God was very good, and so I was
thinking that I would show him how very much I love you, how I could
really never get along without you, and how I care for nothing else
in the world. It seems to me to be such a little thing, that we
should only just want to love; and truly, that is all I do want,--I
would not mind anything else in the world,--I would go away from
this little house and live in any poor place, and do all the work,
and never care about anything else at all, if I just might have you.
That is really true, David, and I wish that you would know it, and
that God would know it, and not expect me to think of such dreadful
things as you talk of."
As David gazed into her deep, earnest eyes he pressed her to him
with a sudden burst of emotion. "You have me now, dearest," he
whispered, "and oh, I shall trust the God who gave me this precious
heart!"--He kissed her once more in fervent love, and kissed her
again and again until the clouds had left her face. She leaned back
and gazed at him, and was radiant with delight again. "Oh--oh--oh!"
she cried. "David, it only makes me more full of wonder at the real
truth! For it is the truth, David, it is the truth--that you are all
mine! It is so wonderful, and it makes me so happy,--I seem to lose
myself more in the thought every day!"
"You can never lose yourself too much, little sweetheart," David
whispered; "let us trust to love, and let it grow all that it will.
Helen, I never knew what it was to live until I met you,--never knew
how life could be so full and rich and happy. And never, never will
I be able to tell you how much I love you, dearest soul."
"Oh, but I believe you without being told!" she said, laughing. "Do
you know, I could make myself quite mad just with saying over to
myself that you love me all that I could ever wish you to love me,
all that I could imagine you loving me! Isn't that true, David?"
"Yes, that is true," the man replied.
"But you don't know what a wonderful imagination I have," laughed
the girl, "and how hungry for your love I am." And she clasped him
to her passionately and cried, "David, you can make me too happy to
live with that thought! I shall have to think about it all the time
that you are gone, and when you come back I shall be so wonderfully
Then she laughed eagerly and sprang up. "You must not stay any
longer," she exclaimed, "because it is getting late; only hurry
back, because I can do nothing but wait for you." And so she led him
to the door, and kissed him again, and then watched him as he
started up the road. He turned and looked at her, as she leaned
against the railing of the porch, with the glory of the sunset
falling upon her hair; she made a radiant picture, for her cheeks
were still flushed, and her bosom still heaving with the glory of
the thought she had promised to keep. There was so much of her love
in the look which she kept upon David that it took some resolution
to go on. and leave her.
As for Helen, she watched him until he had quite disappeared in the
forest, after which she turned and gazed across the lake at the gold
and crimson mountains. But all the time she was still thinking the
thought of David's love; the wonder of it was still upon her face,
and it seemed to lift her form; until at last she stretched wide her
arms, and leaned back her head, and drank a deep draft of the
evening air, whispering aloud, "Oh, I do not dare to be as happy as
I can!" And she clasped her arms upon her bosom and laughed a wild
laugh of joy.
Later on, because it was cold, she turned and went into the house,
singing a song to herself as she moved. As she went to the piano and
sat down she saw upon the rack the little springtime song of Grieg's
that was the first thing she had ever heard upon David's violin; she
played a few bars of it to herself, and then she stopped and sat
still, lost in the memory which it brought to her mind of the night
when she had sat at the window and listened to it, just after seeing
Arthur for the last time. "And to think that it was only four or
five months ago!" she whispered to herself. "And how wretched I
"I do not believe I could ever be so unhappy again," she went on
after a while, "I know that I could not, while I have David!" after
which her thoughts came back into the old, old course of joy. When
she looked at the music again the memory of her grief was gone, and
she read in it all of her own love-glory. She played it through
again, and afterwards sat quite still, until the twilight had begun
to gather in the room.
Helen then rose and lit the lamp, and the fire in the open
fire-place; she glanced at the clock and saw that more than a
quarter of an hour had passed, and she said to herself that it could
not be more than that time again before David was back.
"I should go out and meet him if I were feeling quite strong," she
added as she went to the door and looked out; then she exclaimed
suddenly: "But oh, I know how I can please him better!" And the girl
went to the table where some of her books were lying, and sat down
and began very diligently studying, glancing every half minute at
the clock and at the door. "I shall be too busy even to hear him!"
she said, with a sudden burst of glee; and quite delighted with the
effect that would produce she listened eagerly every time she
fancied she heard a step, and then fixed her eyes upon the book, and
put on a look of most complete absorption.
Unfortunately for Helen's plan, however, each time it proved to be a
false alarm; and so the fifteen minutes passed completely, and then
five, and five again. The girl had quite given up studying by that
time, and was gazing at the clock, and listening to its ticking, and
wondering very much indeed. At last when more than three-quarters of
an hour had passed since David had left, she got up and went to the
door once more to listen; as she did not hear anything she went out
on the piazza, and finally to the road. All about her was veiled in
shadow, which her eyes strove in vain to pierce; and so growing
still more impatient she raised her voice and called, "David,
David!" and then stood and listened to the rustling of the leaves
and the faint lapping of the water on the shore.
"That is very strange," Helen thought, growing very anxious indeed;
"it is fearfully strange! What in the world can have happened?" And
she called again, with no more result that before; until with a
sudden resolution she turned and passed quickly into the house, and
flinging a wrap about her, came out and started down the road.
Occasionally she raised her voice and shouted David's name, but
still she got no reply, and her anxiety soon changed into alarm, and
she was hurrying along, almost in a run. In this way she climbed the
long ascent which the road made from the lake shore; and when she
had reached the top of it she gathered her breath and shouted once
more, louder and more excitedly than ever.
This time she heard the expected reply, and found that David was
only a few rods ahead of her. "What is the matter?" she called to
him, and as he answered that it was nothing, but to come to him, she
ran on more alarmed than ever.
There was just light enough for her to see that David was bending
down; and then as she got very near she saw that on the ground in
front of him was lying a dark, shadowy form. As Helen cried out
again to know what was the matter, her husband said, "Do not be
frightened, dear; it is only some poor woman that I have found here
by the roadside."
"A woman!" the girl echoed in wonder, at the same time giving a gasp
of relief at the discovery that her husband was not in trouble.
"Where in the world can she have come from, David?"
"I do not know," he answered, "but she probably wandered off the
main road. It is some poor, wretched creature, Helen; she has been
drinking, and is quite helpless."
And Helen stood still in horror, while David arose and came to her.
"You are out of breath, dear," he exclaimed, "why did you come so
"Oh, I was so frightened!" the girl panted. "I cannot tell you,
David, what happens in my heart whenever I think of your coming to
any harm. It was dreadful, for I knew something serious must be the
David put his arm about her and kissed her to quiet her fears; then
he said, "You ought not to have come out, dear; but be calm now, for
there is nothing to worry you, only we must take care of this poor
woman. It is such a sad sight, Helen; I wish that you had not come
"What were you going to do?" asked the girl, forgetting herself
quickly in her sympathy.
"I meant to come down and tell you," was David's reply; "and then go
back to town and get someone to come and take her away."
"But, David, you can never get back over that rough road in the
darkness!" exclaimed Helen in alarm; "it is too far for you to walk,
even in the daytime--I will not let you do it, you must not!"
"But dear, this poor creature cannot be left here; it will be a
bitter cold night, and she might die."
Helen was silent for a moment in thought, and then she said in a
low, trembling voice: "David, there is only one thing to do."
"What is that, dear?" asked the other.
"We will have to take her home with us."
"Do you know what you are saying?" asked the other with a start;
"that would be a fearful thing to do, Helen."
"I cannot help it," she replied, "it is the only thing. And it would
be wicked not to be willing to do that, because she is a woman."
"She is in a fearful way, dear," said the other, hesitatingly; "and
to ask you to take care of her--"
"I would do anything sooner than let you take that walk in such
darkness as this!" was the girl's reply; and with that statement she
silenced all of his objections.
And so at last David pressed her hand, and whispered, "Very well,
dear, God will bless you for it." Then for a while the two stood in
silence, until Helen asked, "Do you think that we can carry her,
"We may try it," the other replied; and Helen went and knelt by the
prostrate figure. The woman was muttering to herself, but she seemed
to be quite dazed, and not to know what was going on about her.
Helen did not hesitate any longer, but bent over and strove to lift
her; the woman was fortunately of a slight build, and seemed to be
very thin, so that with David's help it was easy to raise her to her
feet. It was a fearful task none the less, for the poor wretch was
foul with the mud in which she had been lying, and her wet hair was
streaming over her shoulders; as Helen strove to lift her up the
head sunk over upon her, but the girl bit her lips together grimly.
She put her arm about the woman's waist, and David did the same on
the other side, and so the three started, stumbling slowly along in
"Are you sure that it is not too much for you?" David asked; "we can
stop whenever you like, Helen."
"No, let us go on," the girl said; "she has almost no weight, and we
must not leave her out here in the cold. Her hands are almost frozen
They soon made their way on down to where the lights of the little
cottage shone through the trees. David could not but shrink back as
he thought of taking their wretched burden into their little home,
but he heard the woman groan feebly, and he was ashamed of his
thought. Nothing more was said until they had climbed the steps, not
without difficulty, and had deposited their burden upon the floor of
the sitting room; after which David rose and sank back into a chair,
for the strain had been a heavy one for him.
Helen also sprang up as she gazed at the figure; the woman was foul
with every misery that disease and sin can bring upon a human
creature, her clothing torn to shreds and her face swollen and
stained. She was half delirious, and clawing about her with her
shrunken, quivering hands, so that Helen exclaimed in horror: "Oh
God, that is the most dreadful sight I have ever seen in my life!"
"Come away," said the other, raising himself from the chair; "it is
not right that you should look at such things."
But with Helen it was only a moment before her pity had overcome
every other emotion; she knelt down by the stranger and took one of
the cold hands and began chafing it. "Poor, poor woman!" she
exclaimed; "oh, what misery you must have suffered! David, what can
a woman do to be punished like this? It is fearful!"
It was a strange picture which the two made at that moment, the
woman in her cruel misery, and the girl in her pure and noble
beauty. But Helen had no more thought of shrinking, for all her soul
had gone out to the unfortunate stranger, and she kept on trying to
bring her back to consciousness. "Oh, David," she said, "what can we
do to help her? It is too much that any human being should be like
this,--she would have died if we had not found her." And then as the
other opened her eyes and struggled to lift herself, Helen caught an
incoherent word and said, "I think she is thirsty, David; get some
water and perhaps that will help her. We must find some way to
comfort her, for this is too horrible to be. And perhaps it is not
her fault, you know,--who knows but perhaps some man may have been
the cause of it all? Is it not dreadful to think of, David?"
So the girl went on; her back was turned to her husband, and she was
engrossed in her task of mercy, and did not see what he was doing.
She did not see that he had started forward in his chair and was
staring at the woman; she did not see him leaning forward, farther
and farther, with a strange look upon his face. But there was
something she did see at last, as the woman lifted herself again and
stared first at Helen's own pitying face, and then vaguely about the
room, and last of all gazing at David. Suddenly she stretched out
her arms to him and strove to rise, with a wild cry that made Helen
leap back in consternation:--"David! It's David!"
And at the same instant David sprang up with what was almost a
scream of horror; he reeled and staggered backwards against the
wall, clutching with his hands at his forehead, his face a ghastly,
ashen gray; and as Helen sprang up and ran towards him, he sank down
upon his knees with a moan, gazing up into the air with a look of
agony upon his face. "My God! My God!" he gasped; "it is my Mary!"
And Helen sank down beside him, clutching him by the arm, and
staring at him in terror. "David, David!" she whispered, in a hoarse
voice. But the man seemed not to hear her, so overwhelmed was he by
his own emotion. "It is Mary," he cried out again,--"it is my
Mary!--oh God, have mercy upon my soul!" And then a shudder passed
over him, and he buried his face in his arms and fell down upon the
floor, with Helen, almost paralyzed with fright, still clinging to
In the meantime the woman had still been stretching out her
trembling arms to him, crying his name again and again; as she sank
back exhausted the man started up and rushed toward her, clutching
her by the hand, and exclaiming frantically, "Mary, Mary, it is
I--speak to me!" But the other's delirium seemed to have returned,
and she only stared at him blankly. At last David staggered to his
feet and began pacing wildly up and down, hiding his face in his
hands, and crying helplessly, "Oh, God, that this should come to me
now! Oh, how can I bear it--oh, Mary, Mary!"
He sank down upon the sofa again and burst into fearful sobbing;
Helen, who had still been kneeling where he left her, rushed toward
him and flung her arms about him, crying out, "David, David, what is
the matter? David, you will kill me; what is it?"
And he started and stared at her wildly, clutching her arm. "Helen,"
he gasped, "listen to me! I ruined that woman! Do you hear me?--do
you hear me? It was I who betrayed her--I who made her what she is!
_I--I!_ Oh, leave me,--leave me alone--oh, what can I do?"
Then as the girl still clung to him, sobbing his name in terror, the
man went on, half beside himself with his grief, "Oh, think of
it--oh, how can I bear to know it and live? Twenty-three years ago,
--and it comes back to curse me now! And all these years I have been
living and forgetting it--and been happy, and talking of my
goodness--oh God, and this fearful madness upon the earth! And I
made it--I--and _she_ has had to pay for it! Oh, look at her, Helen,
look at her--think that that foulness is mine! She was
beautiful,--she was pure,--and she might have been happy, she would
have been good, but for me! Oh God in heaven, where can I hide
myself, what can I do?"
Helen was still clutching at his arm, crying to him, "David, spare
me!" He flung her off in a mad frenzy, holding her at arm's length,
and staring at her with a fearful light in his eyes. "Girl, girl!"
he cried, "do you know who I am--do you know what I have done? This
girl was like you once, and I made her love me--made her love me
with the sacred fire that God had given me, made her love me as I
made _you_ love me! And she was beautiful like you--she was younger
than you, and as happy as you! And she trusted me as you trusted me,
she gave herself to me as you did, and I took her, and promised her
my love--and now look at her! Can you wish to be near me, can you
wish to see me? Oh, Helen, I cannot bear myself--oh, leave me, I
He sank down once more, weeping, all his form shaking with his
grief; Helen flung her arms about his neck again, but the man seemed
to forget her presence. "Oh, think where that woman has been," he
moaned; "think what she has seen, and done, and suffered--and what
she is! Was there ever such a wreck of womanhood, ever such a curse
upon earth? And, oh, for the years that she has lived in her fearful
sin, and I have been happy--great God, what can I do for those
years,--how can I live and gaze upon this crime of mine? I, who
sought for beauty, to have made this madness; and it comes now to
curse me, now, when it is too late; when the life is wrecked,--when
it is gone forever!"
David's voice had sunk into a moan; and then suddenly he heard the
woman crying out, and he staggered to his feet. She was sitting up
again, her arms stretched out; David caught her in his own, gazing
into her face and crying, "Mary, Mary! Look at me! Here I am--I am
David, the David you loved."
He stopped, gasping for breath, and the woman cried in a faint
voice, "Water, water!" David turned and called to Helen, and the
poor girl, tho scarcely able to stand, ran to get a glass of it;
another thought came to the man in the meantime, and he turned to
the other with a sudden cry. "If there were a child!" he gasped, "a
child of mine somewhere in the world, alone and helpless!" He stared
into the woman's eyes imploringly.
She was gazing at him, choking and trying to speak; she seemed to be
making an effort to understand him, and as David repeated his
agonizing question she gave a sign of assent, causing a still wilder
look to cross the man's face. He called to her again to tell him
where; but the woman seemed to be sinking back into her raving, and
she only gasped faintly again for water.
When Helen brought it they poured it down her throat, and then David
repeated his question once more; but he gave a groan as he saw that
it was all in vain; the wild raving had begun again, and the woman
only stared at him blankly, until at last the wretched man, quite
overcome, sank down at her side and buried his head upon her
shrunken bosom and cried like a child, poor Helen in the meantime
clinging to him still.
It was only when David had quite worn himself out that he seemed to
hear her pleading voice; then he looked at her, and for the first
time through his own grief caught sight of hers. There was such a
look of helpless woe upon Helen's face that he put out his hand to
her and whispered faintly, "Oh, poor little girl, what have _you_
done that you should suffer so?" As Helen drew closer to him,
clinging to his hand in fright, he went on, "Can you ever forgive me
for this horror--forgive me that I dared to forget it, that I dared
to marry you?"
The girl's answer was a faint moan, "David, David, have mercy on
me!" He gazed at her for a moment, reading still more of her
"Helen," he asked, "you see what has come upon me--can you ask me
not to be wretched, can you ask me still to live? What can I do for
such a crime,--when I look at this wreck of a soul, what comfort can
I hope to find?" And the girl, her heart bursting with grief, could
only clasp his hands in hers and gaze into his eyes; there was no
word she could think of to say to him, and so for a long time the
two remained in silence, David again fixing his eyes upon the woman,
who seemed to be sinking into a kind of stupor.
When he looked up once more it was because Helen was whispering in
his ear, a new thought having come to her, "David, perhaps _I_ might
be able to help you yet."
The man replied in a faint, gasping voice, "Help me? How?" And the
girl answered, "Come with me," and rose weakly to her feet, half
lifting him also. He gazed at the woman and saw that she was lying
still, and then he did as Helen asked. She led him gently into the
other room, away from the fearful sight, and the two sat down, David
limp and helpless, so that he could only sink down in her arms with
a groan. "Poor, poor David," she whispered, in a voice of infinite
pity; "oh, my poor David!"