"Dosn't thou 'ear my 'erse's legs, as they canters awaay? Proputty, proputty, proputty--that's what I 'ears 'em saay.
But I knawed a Quaaker feller as often 'as towd ma this: 'Doant thou marry for munny, but goa wheer munny is!'"
Helen had much to do to keep her busy during the next few days. She had in the first place to receive visits from nearly everybody in Oakdale, for she was a general favorite in the town, and besides that everyone was curious to see what effect the trip had had upon her beauty and accomplishments. Then too, she had the unpacking of an incredible number of trunks; it was true that Helen, having been a favored boarder at an aristocratic seminary, was not in the habit of doing anything troublesome herself, but she considered it necessary to superintend the servant. Last of all there was a great event at the house of her aunt, Mrs. Roberts, to be anticipated and prepared for.
It has been said that the marriage of Mr. Davis had been a second romance in that worthy man's career, he having had the fortune to win the love of a daughter of a very wealthy family which lived near Oakdale. The parents had of course been bitterly opposed to the match, but the girl had had her way. Unfortunately, however, the lovers, or at any rate the bride, having been without any real idea of duty or sacrifice, the match had proved one of those that serve to justify the opinions of people who are "sensible;" the young wife, wearying of the lot she had chosen, had sunk into a state of peevish discontent from which death came to relieve her.
Of this prodigal daughter Aunt Polly was the elder, and wiser, sister. She had never ceased to urge upon the other, both before and after marriage, the folly of her conduct, and had lived herself to be a proof of her own more excellent sense, having married a wealthy stockbroker who proved a good investment, trebling his own capital and hers in a few years. Aunt Polly therefore had a fine home upon Madison Avenue in New York, and a most aristocratic country-seat a few miles from Oakdale, together with the privilege of frequenting the best society in New York, and of choosing her friends amongst the most wealthy in the neighborhood of the little town. This superiority to her erring sister had probably been one of the causes that had contributed to develop the most prominent trait in her character--which is perhaps the most prominent trait of high society in general--a complete satisfaction with the world she knew, and what she knew about it, and the part she played in it. For the rest, Aunt Polly was one of those bustling little women who rule the world in almost everything, because the world finds it is too much trouble to oppose them. She had assumed, and had generally succeeded in having recognized, a complete superiority to Mr. Davis in her knowledge about life, with the result that, as has been stated, the education of the one child of the unfortunate marriage had been managed by her.
When, therefore, Helen had come off the steamer, it had been Mrs. Roberts who was there to meet her; and the arrangement announced was that the girl was to have three days to spend with her father, and was then to come for a week or two at her aunt's, who was just opening her country home and who intended to invite a score of people whom she considered, for reasons of her own, proper persons for her niece to meet. Mrs. Roberts spoke very condescendingly indeed of the company which Helen met at her father's, Mr. Davis having his own opinions about the duty of a clergyman toward the non-aristocratic members of his flock.
The arrangement, it is scarcely necessary to say, pleased Helen very much indeed; the atmosphere of luxury and easy superiority which she found at her aunt's was much to her taste, and she looked forward to being a center of attraction there with the keenest delight. In the meantime, however, she slaked her thirst for happiness just as well at Oakdale, accepting with queenly grace the homage of all who came to lay their presents at her feet. Sunday proved to be a day of triumph, for all the town had come to church, and was as much stirred by the glory of her singing as Arthur had predicted. After the service everyone waited to tell her about it, and so she was radiant indeed.
By Tuesday, however, all that had come to seem a trifling matter, for that afternoon Aunt Polly was to come, and a new world was to be opened for her conquest. Helen was amusing herself by sorting out the motley collection of souvenirs and curios which she had brought home to decorate her room, when she heard a carriage drive up at the door, and a minute later heard the voice of Mrs. Roberts' footman in the hall.
Mrs. Roberts herself did not alight, and Helen kept her waiting only long enough to slip on her hat, and to bid her father a hurried farewell. In a minute more she was in the carriage, and was being borne in state down the main street of Oakdale.
"You are beautiful to-day, my dear," said her aunt, beaming upon her; "I hope you are all ready for your triumph."
"I think so," said Helen. "I've about seen everybody and everything I wanted to at home; I've been wonderfully happy, Auntie."
"That is right, my dear," said Aunt Polly. "You have certainly every cause to be, and you would be foolish not to make the most of it. But I should think this town would seem a somewhat less important place to you, after all that you have seen of the world."
"Yes, it does a little," laughed Helen, "but it seemed good to see all the old people again."
"Someone told me they saw Arthur here on Saturday," said the other. "Did you see _him?_"
"Oh, yes," said Helen; "that's what he came for. You can fancy how glad I was to meet him. I spent a couple of hours walking in the woods with him."
Mrs. Roberts' look of dismay may be imagined; it was far too great for her to hide.
"Where is he now?" she asked, hastily.
"Oh, he has gone home," said Helen; and she added, smiling, "he went on Saturday afternoon, because he's writing a poem about thunderstorms, and he wanted to study that one."
The other was sufficiently convinced of the irresponsibility of poets to be half uncertain whether Helen was joking or not; it was very frequently difficult to tell, anyway, for Helen would look serious and amuse herself by watching another person's mystification--a trait of character which would have been intolerable in anyone less fascinating than she.
Perhaps Aunt Polly thought something of that as she sat and watched the girl. Aunt Polly was a little woman who looked as if she herself might have once made some pretense to being a belle, but she was very humble before Helen. "My dear," she said, "every minute that I watch you, I am astonished to see how wonderfully you have grown. Do you know, Helen, you are glorious!"
"Yes," said Helen, smiling delightedly. "Isn't it nice, Aunt Polly? I'm so glad I'm beautiful."
"You funny child," laughed the other. "What a queer thing to say!"
"Am I not to know I am beautiful?" inquired Helen, looking at her with open eyes. "Why, dear me! I can look at myself in the glass and be just as happy as anyone else; I love everything beautiful."
Aunt Polly beamed upon her. "I am glad of it, my dear," she laughed. "I only wish I could say something to you to make you realize what your wonderful beauty means."
"How, Aunt Polly?" asked the girl. "Have you been reading poetry?"
"No," said the other, "not exactly; but you know very well in your heart what hopes I have for you, Helen, and I only wish you could appreciate the gift that has been given you, and not fling it away in any foolish fashion. With your talents and your education, my dear, there is almost nothing that you might not do."
"Yes," said Helen, with all of her seriousness, "I often think of it; perhaps, Auntie, I might become a poetess!"
The other looked aghast. Helen had seen the look on her aunt's face at the mention of her walk with Arthur, and being a young lady of electrical wit, had understood just what it meant, and just how the rest of the conversation was intended to bear upon the matter; with that advantage she was quite in her glory.
"No, indeed, Aunt Polly," she said, "you can never tell; just suppose, for instance, I were to fall in love with and marry a man of wonderful genius, who would help me to devote myself to art? It would not make any difference, you know, if he were poor--we could struggle and help each other. And oh, I tell you, if I were to meet such a man, and to know that he loved me truly, and to have proof that he could remember me and be true to me, even when I was far away, oh, I tell you, nothing could ever keep me--"
Helen was declaiming her glowing speech with real fervor, her hands dramatically outstretched. But she could not get any further, for the look of utter horror upon her auditor's face was too much for her; she dropped her hands and made the air echo with her laughter.
"Oh, Aunt Polly, you goose!" she cried, flinging one arm about her, "have you really forgotten me that much in three years?"
The other was so relieved at the happy denouement of that fearful tragedy that she could only protest, "Helen, Helen, why do you fool me so?"
"Because you fool me, or try to," said Helen. "When you have a sermon to preach on the impropriety of walking in the woods alone with a susceptible young poet, I wish you'd mount formally into the pulpit and begin with the text."
"My dear," laughed the other, "you are too quick; but I must confess--"
"Of course you must," said the girl; and she folded her hands meekly and looked grave. "And now I am ready; and if you meet with any difficulties in the course of your sermon, I've an expert at home who has preached one hundred and four every year for twenty years, all genuine and no two alike."
"Helen," said the other, "I do wish you would talk seriously with me. You are old enough to be your own mistress now, and to do as you please, but you ought to realize that I have seen the world more than you, and that my advice is worth something."
"Tell it to me," said Helen, ceasing to laugh, and leaning back in the carriage and gazing at her aunt. "What do you want me to do, now that I am home? I will be really serious if you wish me to, for that does interest me. I suppose that my education is finished?"
"Yes," said the other, "it ought to be, certainly; you have had every advantage that a girl can have, a great deal more than I ever had. And you owe it all to me, Helen,--you do, really; if it hadn't been for my insisting you'd have gotten all your education at Hilltown, and you'd have played the piano and sung like Mary Nelson across the way."
Helen shuddered, and felt that that was cause indeed for gratitude.
"It is true," said her aunt; "I've taken as much interest in you as in any one of my own children, and you must know it. It was for no reason at all but that I saw what a wonderful woman you promised to become, and I was anxious to help you to the social position that I thought you ought to have. And now, Helen, the chance is yours if you care to take it."
"I am taking it, am I not?" asked Helen; "I'm going with you, and I shall be just as charming as I can."
"Yes, I know," said the other, smiling a little; "but that is not exactly what I mean."
"What do you mean?"
"Of course, my dear, you may enter good society a while by visiting me; but that will not be permanently. You will have to marry into it, Helen dear."
"Marry!" echoed the girl, taken aback. "Dear me!"
"You will wish to marry some time," said the other, "and so you should look forward to it and choose your course. With your charms, Helen, there is almost nothing that you might not hope for; you must know yourself that you could make any man fall in love with you that you wished. And you ought to know also that if you only had wealth you could enter any society; for you have good birth, and you will discover that you have more knowledge and more wit than most of the people you meet."
"I've discovered that already," said Helen, laughing.
"All that you must do, my love," went on the other, "is to realize what is before you, and make up your mind to what you want. You know that your tastes are not those of a poor woman; you have been accustomed to comfort, and you need refinement and wealth; you could never be happy unless you could entertain your friends properly, and live as you pleased."
"But I don't want to marry a man just for his money," protested the girl, not altogether pleased with her aunt's business-like view.
"No one wants you to," the other responded; "you may marry for love if you like; but it is not impossible to love a rich man, is it, Helen?"
"But, Aunt Polly," said Helen, "I am satisfied as I am now. I do not want to marry anybody. The very idea makes me shudder."
"I am not in the least anxious that you should," was the answer. "You are young, and you may choose your own time. All I am anxious for is that you should realize the future that is before you. It is dreadful to me to think that you might throw your precious chance away by some ridiculous folly."
Helen looked at her aunt for a moment, and then the irrepressible smile broke out.
"What is the matter, child?" asked the other.
"Nothing, except that I was thinking about how these thoughts were brought up."
"How do you mean?"
"Apropos of my woodland walk with poor Arthur. Auntie, I do believe you're afraid I'm going to fall in love with the dear fellow."
"No," said Aunt Polly; "it is not exactly that, for I'd never be able to sleep at night if I thought you capable of anything quite so ghastly. But we must have some care of what people will think, my dear Helen."
As a matter of fact, Aunt Polly did have some very serious fears about the matter, as has been hinted before; it was, perhaps, a kind of tribute to the divine fire which even society's leaders pay. If it had been a question of a person of her own sense and experience, the word "genius" would have suggested no danger to Mrs. Roberts, but it was different with a young and probably sentimental person like Helen, with her inflaming beauty.
"As a matter of fact, Aunt Polly," said Helen, "everybody understands my intimacy with Arthur."
"Tell me, Helen dear," said the other, turning her keen glance upon her; "tell me the honest truth."
"You are not in love with Arthur?"
And Helen answered her with her eyes very wide open: "No, I certainly am not in the least."
And the other drew secretly a great breath of relief. "Is he in love with you, Helen?" she asked.
As Helen thought of Arthur's departure, the question could not but bring a smile. "I--I'm afraid he is," she said.--"a very little."
"What a ridiculous impertinence!" exclaimed the other, indignantly.
"Oh, that's all right, Auntie," said Helen; "he really can't help it, you know." She paused for a moment, and then she went on: "Such things used to puzzle me when I was very young, and I used to think them quite exciting; but I'm getting used to them now. All the men seem to fall in love with me,--they do, honestly, and I don't know how in the world to help it. They all will make themselves wretched, and I'm sure it isn't my fault. I haven't told you anything about my German lovers, have I, Auntie?"
"Gracious, no!" said the other; "were there any?"
"Any?" laughed the girl. "I might have robbed the Emperor of a whole colonel's staff, and the colonel at the head of it. But I'll tell you about Johann, the funniest one of all; I think he really loved me more than all the rest."
"Pray, who was Johann?" asked Aunt Polly, thinking how fortunate it was that she learned of these things only after the danger was over.
"I never will forget the first time I met him," laughed the girl, "the first day I went to the school. Johann was a little boy who opened the door for me, and he stared at me as if he were in a trance; he had the most wonderful round eyes, and puffy red cheeks that made me always think I'd happened to ring the bell while he was eating; and every time after that he saw me for three years he used to gaze at me in the same helpless wonder, with all lingers of his fat little hands wide apart."
"What a disagreeable wretch!" said the other.
"Not in the least," laughed Helen; "I liked him. But the funniest part came afterwards, for when I came away Johann had grown a whole foot, and was quite a man. I sent for him to put the straps on my trunks, and guess what he did! He stared at me for a minute, just the same as ever, and then he ran out of the room, blubbering like a baby; and that's the last I ever saw of him."
Helen was laughing as she told the story, but then she stopped and looked a little conscience-stricken. "Do you know, Aunt Polly," she said, "it is really a dreadful thing to make people unhappy like that; I suppose poor Johann had spent three whole years dreaming about the enchanted castle in which I was to be fairy princess."
"It was a good chance for a romantic marriage," said the other.
"Yes," said the girl, laughing again; "I tried to fancy it. He'd have kept a Wirthshaus, I suppose, and I'd have served the guests; and Arthur might have come, and I'd have cut Butterbrod for him and he could have been my Werther! Wouldn't Arthur have made a fine Werther, though, Aunt Polly?"
"And blown his brains out afterwards," added the other.
"No," said Helen, "brains are too scarce; I'd rather have him follow Goethe's example and write a book about it instead. You know I don't believe half the things these poets tell you, for I think they put themselves through their dreadful experiences just to tell about them and make themselves famous. Don't you believe that, Auntie?"
"I don't know," said the other (a statement which she seldom made). "I don't know much about such things. Nobody reads poetry any more, you know, Helen, and it doesn't really help one along very much."
"It doesn't do any harm, does it?" inquired the girl, smiling to herself, "just a little, once in a while?"
"Oh, no, of course not," said the other; "I believe that a woman ought to have a broad education, for she never knows what may be the whims of the men she meets, or what turn a conversation may take. All I'm afraid of, Helen, is that if you fill your mind with sentimental ideas you might be so silly as to fancy that you were doing something romantic in throwing your one great chance away upon some worthless nobody. I want you to realize what you are, Helen, and that you owe something to yourself, and to your family, too; for the Roberts have always had wealth and position until your mother chose to marry a poor man. What I warn you of now is exactly what I warned her of. Your father is a good man, but he had absolutely nothing to make your mother happy; she was cut off from everything she had been used to,--she could not even keep a carriage. And of course she could not receive her old friends, very few of them cared to have anything more to do with her, and so she simply pined away in discontentment and miserable poverty. You have had an easy life, Helen, and you have no idea of what a horrible thing it is to be poor; you have had the best of teachers, and you have lived at an expensive school, and of course you have always had me to rely upon to introduce you to the right people; but if you married a poor man you couldn't expect to keep any of those advantages. I don't speak of your marrying a man who had no money at all, for that would be too fearful to talk about; but suppose you were to take any one of the young men you might meet at Oakdale even, you'd have to live in a mean little house, and do with one or two servants, and worry yourself about the butcher's bills and brush your own dresses and drive your own horse. And how long do you suppose it would be before you repented of that? Think of having to be like those poor Masons, for instance; they are nice people, and I like them, but I hate to go there, for every time I can't help seeing that the parlor furniture is more dingy, and thinking how miserable they must be, not to be able to buy new things.
And their servants' liveries are half worn too; and when you dine there you see that Mrs. Mason is eating with a plated fork, because she has not enough of her best silver to go around. All those things are trifles, Helen, but think of the worry they must give those poor people, who are pinching themselves and wearing themselves out soul and body, trying to keep in the station where they belong, or used to. Poor Mrs. Mason is pale and nervous and wrinkled at forty, and those three poor girls, who spend their time making over their old dresses, are so dowdy- looking and uneasy that no man ever glances at them twice. It is such misery as that which I dread for you, Helen, and why I am talking to you. There is no reason why you should take upon you such sorrows; you have a clear head, and you can think for yourself and make up your mind about things if you only won't blind yourself by foolish sentimentality. You have been brought up to a certain station in life, and no man has a right to offer himself to you unless he can maintain you in that station. There is really no scarcity of such men, Helen, and you'd have no trouble in finding one. There are hundreds of men in New York who are worth millions, and who would fling themselves and their wealth at your feet if you would have them. And you would find such a difference between the opportunities of pleasure and command that such a chance would give you and the narrow life that you lead in this little town that you would wonder how you could ever have been satisfied. It is difficult for you to realize what I mean, my dear, because you have only a schoolgirl's knowledge of life and its pleasures, but when you are in the world, and have learned what power is, and what it means to possess such beauty as yours, you will feel your heart swelling with a new pleasure, and you will thank me for what I tell you. I have figured a wonderful triumph for you, Helen, and it is time you knew what is before you. Of what use is your beauty, if you do not carry it into a wide enough sphere, where it can bring you the admiration and homage you deserve? You need such a field, Helen, to discover your own powers in; believe me, my dear, there is really a higher ambition in the world than to be a country clergyman's daughter."
"Is there any higher than being happy, Auntie?" asked Helen.
The importance of that observation was beyond the other's ken, as indeed it was beyond Helen's also; she had thrown it out as a chance remark.
"Mr. Roberts and I were talking about this last night," went on Aunt Polly, "and he told me that I ought to talk seriously to you about it, and get you to realize what a golden future is before you. For it is really true, Helen, as sure as you can trust what I know about the world, that you can have absolutely anything that you want. That is the long and short of the matter--anything that you want! And why should you not have the very best that life can give you? Why should you have to know that other people dwell in finer houses than yours, and are free from cares that make you ill? Why should you have the humiliation of being looked down upon and scorned by other people? Are these other people more entitled to luxury than you, or more able to enjoy it; or could anyone do it more honor than you? You are beautiful beyond telling; you have every gift that a woman can ask to complete enjoyment of life; you are perfect, Helen, you are really perfect! You _must_ know that; you must say it to yourself when you are alone, and know that your life ought to be a queenly triumph. You have only to stretch out your arms and everything will come to you; and there is really and truly no end to the happiness you can taste."
Helen was gazing at the other with real earnestness, and the words were sinking deep into her soul, deeper than words generally sunk there. She felt her cheeks burning, and her frame stirred by a new emotion; she had seldom before thought of anything but the happiness of the hour.
"Just think of it, my love," continued Mrs. Roberts, "and know that that is what your old auntie was thinking of when you were only a little tiny girl, sitting upon her knee, and when you were so beautiful that artists used to beg to have you pose for them. I never said anything about it then, because you were too young to understand these things; but now that you are to manage yourself, I have been waiting for a chance to tell you, so that you may see what a prize is yours if you are only wise. And if you wonder why I have cared so much and thought so much of what might be yours, the only reason I can give is that you are my niece, and that I felt that any triumph you might win would be mine. I want you to win a higher place in the world than mine, Helen; I never had such a gift as yours."
Helen was silent for a minute, deeply thoughtful.
"Tell me, Auntie," she asked, "and is it really true, then, that a woman is to train herself and grow beautiful and to have so much trouble and money spent upon her--only for her marriage?"
"Why of course, Helen; what else can a woman do? Unless you have money and a husband you cannot possibly hope to accomplish anything in society. With your talents and your beauty you might go anywhere and rule anywhere, but you have to have money before you can even begin."
"But where am I to meet such a rich man, Aunt Polly?" asked Helen.
"You know perfectly well where. Do you suppose that after I have worried myself about you all this time I mean to desert you now, when you are at the very climax of your glory, when you are all that I ever dared dream of? My dear Helen, I am more interested in you just now than in anything else in the world. I feel as a card player feels when millions are at stake, and when he knows that he holds the perfect hand."
"That is very nice," said Helen, laughing nervously. "But there is always a chance of mistake."
"There is none this time, Helen, for I am an old player, and I have been picking and arranging my hand for long, long years; and you are the hand, my love, and the greatest glory of it all must be yours."
Helen's heart was throbbing still faster with excitement, as if she were already tasting the wonderful triumph that was before her; her aunt was watching her closely, noting how the blood was mounting to her bright cheeks. The girl felt herself suddenly choking with her pent up excitement, and she stretched out her arms with a strange laugh.
"Auntie," she said, "you tell me too much at once."
The other had been marshaling her forces like a general during the last few minutes, and she felt just then as if there were nothing left but the rout. "All that I tell you, you may see for yourself," she said. "I don't ask you to take anything on my word, for you have only to look in the glass and compare yourself with the women you meet. You will find that all men will turn their eyes upon you when you enter a room."
Helen did not consider it necessary to debate that question. "You have invited some rich man to meet me at your house?" she asked.
"I was going to say nothing to you about it at first," said the other, "and let you find out. But I thought afterwards that it would be better to tell you, so that you could manage for yourself. I have invited all the men whom Mr. Roberts and I thought it would be best for you to meet."
Helen gazed at her aunt silently for a moment, and then she broke into a nervous laugh. "A regular exposition!" she said; "and you'll bring them out one by one and put them through their paces, won't you, Auntie? And have them labeled for comparison,--so that I can tell just what stocks they own and how they stand on the 'Street'! Do you remember the suitor in Moliere?--_'J'ai quinze mille livres de rente; j'ai le corps sain; j'ai des beaux dents!_'"
It was a flash of Helen's old merriment, but it did not seem so natural as usual, even to her. She forced herself to laugh, for she was growing more and more excited and uneasy.
"My dear," said Aunt Polly, "please do not begin making fun again."
"But you must let me joke a little, Auntie," said the girl. "I have never been serious for so long before."
"You ought to be serious about it, my dear."
"I will," said Helen. "I have really listened attentively; you must tell me all about these rich men that I am to meet, and what I am to do. I hope I am not the only girl."
"Of course not," was the response; "I would not do anything ridiculous. I have invited a number of other girls--but they won't trouble you in the least."
"No," said Helen. "I am not afraid of other girls; but what's to be done? It's a sort of house-warming, I suppose?"
"Yes," was the reply, "I suppose so, for I only came down last week myself. I have asked about twenty people for a week or two; they all know each other, more or less, so there won't be much formality. We shall amuse ourselves with coaching and golf, and anything else we please; and of course there will be plenty of music in the evening."
Helen smiled at the significant tone of her aunt's voice. "Are the people there now?" she asked.
"Those who live anywhere in the neighborhood are; most of the men will be down on the afternoon train, in time for dinner."
"And tell me who are the men, Auntie?"
"I'm afraid I won't have time," said Mrs. Roberts, glancing out of the carriage. "We are too near home. But I will tell you about one of them, if you like."
"The king-bee?" laughed Helen. "Is there a king-bee?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Roberts; "there is. At any rate, my husband and I think he is, and we are anxious to see what you think. His name is Gerald Harrison, and he comes from Cincinnati."
"Oh, dear," said Helen, "I hate to meet men from the West. He must be a pork-packer, or something horrible."
"No," said the other, "he is a railroad president."
"And why do you think he's the king-bee; is he very rich?"
"He is worth about ten million dollars," said Aunt Polly.
Helen gazed at her wildly. "Ten million dollars!" she gasped.
"Yes," said the other; "about that, probably a little more. Mr. Roberts knows all about his affairs."
Helen was staring into her aunt's face. "Tell me," she asked, very nervously indeed. "Tell me, honestly!"
"Is that the man you are bringing me here to meet?"
"Yes, Helen," said the other quietly.
The girl's hands were clasped tightly together just then. "Aunt Polly," she asked, "what kind of a man is he? I will not marry a bad man!"
"A bad man, child? How ridiculous! Do you suppose I would ask you to marry a bad man, if he owned all New York? I want you to be happy. Mr. Harrison is a man who has made his own fortune, and he is a man of tremendous energy. Everyone is obliged to respect him."
"But he must be old, Auntie."
"He is very young, Helen, only about forty."
"Dear me," said the girl, "I could never marry a man as old as forty; and then, I'd have to go out West!"
"Mr. Harrison has come to New York to live," was the other's reply. "He has just bought a really magnificent country seat about ten miles from here--the old Everson place, if you remember it; and he is negotiating for a house near ours in the city. My husband and I both agreed, Helen, that if you could make Mr. Harrison fall in love with you it would be all that we could desire."
"That is not the real problem," Helen said, gazing out of the carriage with a frightened look upon her face; "it is whether I can fall in love with him. Aunt Polly, it is dreadful to me to think of marrying; I don't want to marry! I don't care who the man is!"
"We'll see about that later on," said the other, smiling reassuringly, and at the same time putting her arm about the girl; "there is no hurry, my love, and no one has the least thought of asking you to do what you do not want to do. But a chance like this does not come often to any girl, my dear. Mr. Harrison is in every way a desirable man."
"But he's stupid, Aunt Polly, I know he's stupid! All self-made men are; they tell you about how they made themselves, and what wonderful things they hare made!"
"You must of course not expect to find Mr. Harrison as cultured as yourself, Helen," was the reply; "his education has been that of the world, and not of books. But nobody thinks less of a man for that in the world; the most one can ask is that he does not make pretenses. And he is very far from stupid, I assure you, or he would not have been what he is."
"I suppose not," said Helen, weakly.
"And, besides," observed Aunt Polly, laughing to cheer the girl up, "I assure you it doesn't make any difference. My husband makes no pretense to being a wit, or a musician, or anything like that; he's just a plain, sensible man, but we get along as happily as you could wish. We each of us go our own way, and understand each other perfectly."
"So I'm to marry a plain, sensible man?" asked the girl, apparently not much comforted by the observation.
"A plain, sensible man with ten million dollars, my dear," said Aunt Polly, "who adores you and has nothing to do with his money but to let you make yourself happy and glorious with it? But don't worry yourself, my child, because the first thing for you to feel is that if you don't like him you need not take him. It all rests upon you; he won't be here till after the rest, till the evening train, so you can have time to think it over and calculate whether ten million dollars will buy anything you want." And Mrs. Roberts laughed.
Then the carriage having passed within the gates of her home, she kissed the girl upon her cheek. "By the way," she added, "if you want to meet a romantic person to offset Mr. Harrison, I'll tell you about Mr. Howard. I haven't mentioned him, have I?"
"I never heard of him," said Helen.
"It's a real romance," said the other. "You didn't suppose that your sensible old auntie could have a romance, did you?"
"Tell me about it," laughed Helen.
The carriage was driving up the broad avenue that led to the Roberts house; it was a drive of a minute or two, however, and so Aunt Polly had time for a hasty explanation.
"It was over twenty years ago," she said, "before your mother was married, and when our family had a camp up in the Adirondacks; there were only two others near us, and in each of them there was a young man about my age. We three were great friends for three or four years, but we've never seen each other since till a short while ago."
"And one of them is this man?"
"Yes," said Mrs. Roberts; "his name is David Howard; I met him quite by accident the other day, and recognized him. He lives all alone, in the winter in New York somewheres, and in the summer up at the same place in the mountains; he's the most romantic man you ever met, and I know you'll find him interesting. He's a poet, I fancy, or a musician at any rate, and he's a very great scholar."
"Is he rich too?" asked the girl, laughing.
"I fancy not," was the reply, "but I can't tell; he lives very plainly."
"Aren't you afraid I'll fall in love with him, Auntie?"
"No," said the other, smiling to herself; "I'm not worrying about that."
"Wait till you see him, my dear," was the reply; "if you choose him for a husband I'll give my consent."
"That sounds mysterious," observed the girl, gazing at her aunt; "tell me, is he here now?"
"Yes," said Aunt Polly; "he's been here a day or two; but I don't think you'll see him at dinner, because he has been feeling unwell today; he may be down a while this evening, for I've been telling him about you, and he's anxious to see you. You must be nice to him, Helen, and try to feel as sorry for him as I do."
"Sorry for him?" echoed the girl with a start.
"Yes, my dear, he is an invalid, with some very dreadful affliction."
And Helen stared at her aunt. "An affliction!" she cried. "Aunt Polly, that is horrible! What in the world did you invite an invalid for at this time, with all the other people? I _hate_ invalids!"
"I had asked him before," was the apologetic reply, "and so I couldn't help it. I had great difficulty in getting him to promise to come anyway, for he's a very strange, solitary man. But I wanted to have my little romance, and renew our acquaintance, and this was the only time the third party could come."
"Oh, the third one is here too?"
"He will be in a day or two."
"Who is he?"
"His name is Lieutenant Maynard, and he's in the navy; he's stationed at Brooklyn just now, but he expects to get leave for a while."
"That is a little better," Helen remarked, as the carriage was drawing up in front of the great house. "I'd marry a naval officer."
"No," laughed Aunt Polly; "he leaves a wife and some children in Brooklyn. We three are going to keep to ourselves and talk about old times and what has happened to us since then, and so you young folks will not be troubled by us."
"I hope you will," said the other, "for I can't ever be happy with invalids."
And there, as the carriage door was opened, the conversation ended abruptly. When Helen had sprung out she found that there were six or eight people upon the piazza, to whom the excitement of being introduced drove from her mind for a time all thoughts which her aunt's words had brought.