"And yet methinks I see it in thy face, What them shouldst be: th' occasion speaks thee; and My strong imagination sees a crown Dropping upon thy head."
When Helen awoke upon the following morning, the resolution to withstand her aunt's urging was still strong within her; as she strove to bring back the swift events of the night before, the first discovery she made was a headache and a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction that was new to her. She arose and looked in the glass, and seeing that she was pale, vowed again, "They shall not torment me in this way! I do not even mean that he shall propose to me; I must have time to realize it!"
And so firm was she in her own mind that she rang the bell and sent the maid to call her aunt. It was then only nine o'clock in the morning, and Helen presumed that neither Mrs. Roberts nor any of the other guests would be awake, they not being fresh from boarding school as she was; but the girl was so nervous and restless, and so weighed upon by her urgent resolution, that she felt she could do nothing else until she had declared it and gotten rid of the matter. "I'm going to tell her once for all," she vowed; "they shall not torment me any more."
It turned out, however, that Mrs. Roberts had been up and dressed a considerable time,--for a reason which, when Helen learned it, prevented her delivering so quickly the speech she had upon her mind; she noticed a worried expression upon her aunt's face as soon as the latter came into the room.
"What is the matter?" she asked, in some surprise.
"A very dreadful misfortune, my dear," said Mrs. Roberts; "I don't know how to tell you, you'll be so put out."
Helen was quite alarmed as she saw her aunt sink down into a chair; but then it flashed over her that Mr. Harrison might have for some reason been called away.
"What is it? Tell me!" she asked eagerly.
"It's Mr. Howard, my dear," said the other; and Helen frowned.
"Oh, bother!" she cried; "what about him?"
"He's been ill during the night," replied Aunt Polly.
"Ill!" exclaimed Helen. "Dear me, what a nuisance!"
"Poor man," said the other, deprecatingly; "he cannot help it."
"Yes," exclaimed Helen, "but he ought not to be here. What is the matter with him?"
"I don't know," was the reply, "but he has been suffering so all night that the doctor has had to give him an opiate."
The wan countenance of Mr. Howard rose up before Helen just then, and she shuddered inwardly.
"Dear me, what a state of affairs!" she exclaimed. "It seems to me as if I were to have nothing but fright and worry. Why should there be such things in the world?"
"I don't know, Helen," said the other, "but it is certainly inopportune for you. Of course the company will all have to leave."
"To leave!" echoed Helen; she had never once thought of that.
"Why, of course," said her aunt. "It would not be possible to enjoy ourselves under such very dreadful circumstances."
"But, Aunt Polly, that is a shame!" cried the girl. "The idea of so many people being inconvenienced for such a cause. Can't he be moved?"
"The doctor declares it would be impossible at present, Helen, and it would not look right anyway, you know. He will certainly have to remain until he is better."
"And how long will that be?"
"A week, or perhaps more," was the reply.
And Helen saw that her promised holiday was ruined; her emotions, however, were not all of disappointment, for though she was vexed at the interruptions, she recollected with sudden relief that she could thus obtain, and without so much effort of her own, the time to debate the problem of Mr. Harrison. Also there was in her mind, if not exactly pity for the invalid, at any rate the nearest to it that Helen had ever learned to feel, an uncomfortable fright at the idea of such suffering.
"I promise you," said Aunt Polly, who had been watching her face and trying to read her emotions, "that we shall only postpone the good time I meant to give you. You cannot possibly be more vexed about it than I, for I was rejoicing in your triumph with Mr. Harrison."
"I'm not worrying on that account," said Helen, angrily.
"Helen, dear," said Mrs. Roberts, pleadingly, "what can be the matter with you? I think anyone who was watching you and me would get the idea that I was the one to whom the fortune is coming. I suppose that was only one of your jokes, my dear, but I truly don't think you show a realization of what a tremendous opportunity you have. You show much more lack of experience than I had any idea could be possible."
"It isn't that, Aunt Polly," protested Helen; "I realize it, but I want time to think."
"To think, Helen! But what is there to think? It seems to be madness to trifle with such a chance."
"Will it be trifling to keep him waiting a while?" asked Helen, laughing in spite of her vexation.
"Maybe not, my dear; but you ought to know that every other girl in this house would snap him up at one second's notice. If you'd only seen them watching you last night as I did."
"I saw a little," was the reply. "But, Aunt Polly, is Mr. Harrison the only man whom I can find?"
"My husband and I have been over the list of our acquaintances, and not found anyone that can be compared with him for an instant, Helen. We know of no one that would do for you that has half as much money."
"I never said _he'd_ do for me," said Helen, again laughing. "Understand me, Auntie," she added; "it isn't that I'd not like the fortune! If I could get it without its attachment--"
"But, my dear, you know you can never get any wealth except by marriage; what is the use of talking such nonsense, even in fun?"
"But, listen," objected Helen in turn; "suppose I don't want such a great fortune--suppose I should marry one of these other men?"
"Helen, if you only could know as much as I know about these things," said Mrs. Roberts, "if you only could know the difference between being in the middle and at the top of the social ladder! Dear, why will you choose anything but the best when you can have the best if you want it? I tell you once for all I do not care how clever you are, or how beautiful you are, the great people will look down on you for an upstart if you cannot match them and make just as much of a show. And why can you not discover what your own tastes are? I watched you last night, child; anyone could have seen that you were in your element! You outshone everyone, Helen, and you should do just the same all your life. Can you not see just what that means to you?"
"Yes, Auntie," said Helen, "but then--"
"Were you not perfectly happy last night?" interrupted the other.
"No," protested the other, "that's just what I was going to say."
"The only reason in the world why you are not, my dear, is that you were tormenting yourself with foolish scruples. Can you not see that if you once had the courage to rid yourself of them it would be all that you need. Why are you so weak, Helen?"
"It is not weak!" exclaimed the other.
"Yes," asserted Mrs. Roberts, "I say it is weak. It is weak of you not to comprehend what your life is to be, and what you need for your happiness. It is a shame for you to make no use of the glorious gifts that are yours, and to cramp and hinder all your own progress. I want you to have room to show your true powers, Helen!"
Helen had been leaning over the foot of the bed listening to her aunt, stirred again by all her old emotion, and angry with herself for being stirred; her unspoken resolution was not quite so steady as it had been, tho like all good resolutions it remained in her mind to torment her.
She sprang up suddenly with a very nervous and forced laugh. "I'm glad I don't have to argue with you, Auntie," she said, "and that I'm saved the trouble of worrying myself ill. You see the Fates are on my side,--I must have time to think, whether I want to or not." It was that comfort which saved her from further struggle with herself upon the subject. (Helen much preferred being happy to struggling.) She set hurriedly to work to dress, for her aunt told her that the guests were nearly ready for breakfast.
"Nobody could sleep since all the excitement," she said. "I wonder it did not wake you."
"I was tired," said Helen; "I guess that was it."
"You'll find the breakfast rather a sombre repast," added Mrs. Roberts, pathetically. "I've been up nearly three hours myself, so frightened about poor Mr. Howard; I had neveer seen anyone so dreadfully ill, and I was quite certain he was in his death agony."
"Aunt Polly!" cried Helen with a sudden wild start, "why do you talk like that?"
"I won't say any more about it," was the reply, "only hurry up. And put on your best looks, my dear, for Mr. Harrison to carry away in his memory."
"I'll do that much with pleasure," was the answer; "and please have the maid come up to pack my trunks again; for you won't want me to stay now, of course."
"Oh, no," said Mrs. Roberts, "not unless you want to. Our house won't be a very cheerful place, I fear."
"I'll come back in a week or two, when you are ready for me," Helen added; "in the meantime I can be thinking about Mr. Harrison."
Helen was soon on her way downstairs, for it was terrifying to her to be alone and in the neighborhood of Mr. Howard. She found a sombre gathering indeed, for the guests spoke to each other only in half-whispers, and there were few smiles to be seen. Helen found herself placed opposite Mr. Harrison at the table, and she had a chance to study him by glances through the meal. "He's well dressed, anyway," she mused, "and he isn't altogether bad. I wonder if I'd _dare_ to marry him."
After breakfast Helen strolled out upon the piazza, perhaps with some purpose in her mind; for it is not unpleasant to toy with a temptation, even when one means to resist it. At any rate, she was a little excited when she heard Mr. Harrison coming out to join her there.
"Rather a sad ending of our little party, wasn't it, Miss Davis?" he said.
"Yes," answered the girl, "I feel so sorry for poor Mr. Howard."
"He seemed to be rather ill last night," said the other. He was going to add that the fact perhaps accounted for the invalid's severity, but he was afraid of shocking Helen by his levity,--a not entirely necessary precaution, unfortunately.
"You are going back to town this morning, with the others?" Helen asked.
"No," said Mr. Harrison, somewhat to her surprise; "I have a different plan."
"Good Heavens, does he suppose he's going to stay here with me?" thought the girl.
"I received your aunt's permission to ask you," continued Mr. Harrison, "and so I need only yours."
"For what?" Helen inquired, with varied emotions.
"To drive you over to Oakdale with my rig," said the other. "I had it brought down, you know, because I thought there might be a chance to use it."
Helen had turned slightly paler, and was staring in front of her.
"Are you not fond of driving, then, Miss Davis?" asked the other, as she hesitated.
"Yes," said Helen, "but I don't like to trouble you--"
"I assure you it will be the greatest pleasure in the world," said Mr. Harrison; "I only regret that I shall not be able to see more of you, Miss Davis; it is only for the present, I hope."
"Thank you," said Helen, still very faintly.
"And I have a pair of horses that I am rather proud of," added Mr. Harrison, laughing; "I should like you to tell me what you think of them. Will you give me the pleasure?"
And Helen could not hesitate very much longer without being rude. "If you really wish it, Mr. Harrison," she said, "very well." And then someone else came out on the piazza and cut short the conversation; Helen had no time to think any more about the matter, but she had a disagreeable consciousness that her blood was flowing faster again, and that her old agitation was back in all its strength. Soon afterwards Mrs. Roberts came out and joined the two.
"Miss Davis has granted me the very great favor," said Mr. Harrison; "I fear I shall be happier than I ought to be, considering what suffering I leave behind."
"It will do no good to worry about it," said Mrs. Roberts, a reflection which often keeps the world from wasting its sympathy. "I shall have your carriage brought round."
"Isn't it rather early to start?" asked Helen.
"I don't know," said her aunt; "is it?"
"We can take a little drive if it is," said Mr. Harrison; "I mean that Miss Davis shall think a great deal of my horses."
Helen said nothing, but stood gazing in front of her across the lawns, her mind in a tempest of emotions. She could not put away from her the excitement that Mr. Harrison's presence brought; the visions of wealth and power which gleamed before her almost overwhelmed her with their vastness. But she had also the memory of her morning resolve to trouble her conscience; the result was the same confused helplessness, the dazed and frightened feeling which she so rebelled against.
"I do not _want_ to be troubled in this way," she muttered angrily to herself, again and again; "I wish to be let alone, so that I can be happy!"
Yet there was no chance just then for her to find an instant's peace, or time for further thought; there were half a dozen people about her, and she was compelled to listen to and answer commonplace remarks about the beauty of the country in front of her, and about her singing on the previous evening.
She had to stifle her agitation as best she could, and almost before she realized it her aunt had come to summon her to get ready for the drive.
Helen hoped to have a moment's quiet then; but there was nothing to be done but put on her hat and gloves, and Mrs. Roberts was with her all the time. "Helen," she said pleadingly, as she watched the girl surveying herself in the glass, "I do hope you will not forget all that I told you."
"I wish you would let me alone about it!" cried Helen, very peevishly.
"If you only knew, my dear girl, how much I have done for you," replied the other, "and how I've planned and looked forward to this time, I don't think you'd answer me in that way."
"It isn't that, Aunt Polly," exclaimed Helen, "but I am so confused and I don't know what to think."
"I am trying my poor, humble best to show you what to think. And you could not possibly feel more worried than I just now; Helen, you could be rid of all these doubts and struggles in one instant, if you chose. Ask yourself if it is not true; you have only to give yourself into the arms of the happiness that calls you. And you never will get rid of the matter in any other way,--indeed you will not! If you should fling away this chance, the memory of it would never leave you all your life; after you knew it was too late, you would torment yourself a thousand times more than ever you can now."
"Oh, dear, dear!" cried Helen, half hysterically; "I can't stand that, Aunt Polly. I'll do anything, only let me alone! My head is aching to split, and I don't know where I am."
"And you will never find another chance like it, Helen," went on the other, with sledge-hammer remorselessness. "For if you behave in this perfectly insane way and lose this opportunity, I shall simply give you up in despair at your perversity."
"But I haven't said I was going to lose it," the girl exclaimed. "He won't be any the less in love with me if I make him wait, Aunt Polly!--"
"Mr. Harrison was going back to Cincinnati in a day or two," put in Mrs. Roberts, swiftly.
"He will stay if I wish him to," was the girl's reply. "There is no need for so much worry; one would think I was getting old."
"Old!" laughed the other. "You are so beautiful this morning, Helen, that I could fall in love with you myself." She turned the girl towards her, seeing that her toilet was finished." I haven't a thought in the world, dear, but to keep you so beautiful," she said; "I hate to see you tormenting yourself and making yourself so pale; why will you not take my advice and fling all these worries aside and let yourself be happy? That is all I want you to do, and it is so easy! Why is it that you do not want to be happy? I like to see you smile, Helen!" And Helen, who was tired of struggling, made a wry attempt to oblige her, and then broke into a laugh at herself. Meanwhile the other picked a rose from a great bunch of them that lay upon the bureau, and pinned it upon her dress.
"There, child," she, said, "he can never resist you now, I know!"
Helen kissed her excitedly upon the cheek, and darted quickly out of the door, singing, in a brave attempt to bring back her old, merry self:--
"The flowers that bloom in the spring, tra-la-la, Have nothing to do with the case."
A moment later, however, she recollected Mr. Howard and his misfortune, and her heart sank; she ran quickly down the steps to get the thought of him from her mind.
It was easy enough to forget him and all other troubles as well when she was once outside upon the piazza; for there were plenty of happy people, and everyone crowded about her to bid her good-by. There too was Mr. Harrison standing upon the steps waiting for her, and there was his driving-cart with two magnificent black horses, alert and eager for the sport. Helen was not much of a judge of horses, having never had one of her own to drive, but she had the eye of a person of aristocratic tastes for what was in good form, and she saw that Mr. Harrison's turnout was all of that, with another attraction for her, that it was daring; for the horses were lithe, restless creatures, thoroughbreds, both of them; and it looked as if they had not been out of the stable in a week. They were giving the groom who held them all that he could do.
Mr. Harrison held out his hand to the girl as she came down the steps, and eyed her keenly to see if her flushed cheeks would betray any sign of fear. But Helen's emotions were surging too strongly for such thoughts, and she had, besides, a little of the thoroughbred nature herself. She laughed gaily as she gave her hand to her companion and sprang into the wagon; he followed her, and as he took the reins the groom sprang aside and the two horses bounded away down the broad avenue. Helen turned once to wave her hand in answer to the chorus of good-bys that sounded from the porch, and then she faced about and sank back into the seat and drank in with delight the fresh morning breeze that blew in her face.
"Oh, I think this is fine!" she cried.
"You like driving, then?" asked the other.
"Yes indeed," was the reply. "I like this kind ever so much."
"Wait until we get out on the high-road," said Mr. Harrison, "and then we will see what we can do. I came from the West, you know, Miss Davis, so I think I am wise on the subject of horses."
The woods on either side sped by them, and Helen's emotions soon began to flow faster. It was always easy for her to forget everything and lose herself in feelings of joy and power, and it was especially easy when she was as much wrought up as she was just then. It was again her ride with the thunderstorm, and soon she felt as if she were being swept out into the rejoicing and the victory once more. She might have realized, if she had thought, that her joy was coming only because she was following her aunt's advice, and yielding herself into the arms of her temptation; but Helen was thoroughly tired of thinking; she wanted to feel, and again and again she drank in deep breaths of the breeze.
It was only a minute or so before they passed the gates of the Roberts place, and swept out of the woods and into the open country. It was really inspiring then, for Mr. Harrison gave his horses the reins, and Helen was compelled to hold on to her hat. He saw delight and laughter glowing in her countenance as she watched the landscape that fled by them, with its hillsides clad in their brightest green and with its fresh-plowed farm-lands and snowy orchards; the clattering of the horses' hoofs and the whirring of the wheels in the sandy road were music and inspiration such as Helen longed for, and she would have sung with all her heart had she been alone.
As was her way, she talked instead, with the same animation and glow that had fascinated her companion upon the previous evening. She talked of the sights that were about them, and when they came to the top of the hill and paused to gaze around at the view, she told about her trip through the Alps, and pictured the scenery to him, and narrated some of her mountain-climbing adventures; and then Mr. Harrison, who must have been a dull man indeed not to have felt the contagion of Helen's happiness, told her about his own experiences in the Rockies, to which the girl listened with genuine interest. Mr. Harrison's father, so he told her, had been a station-agent of a little town in one of the wildest portions of the mountains; he himself had begun as a railroad surveyor, and had risen step by step by constant exertion and watchfulness. It was a story of a self-made man, such as Helen had vowed to her aunt she could not bear to listen to; yet she did not find it disagreeable just then. There was an exciting story of a race with a rival road, to secure the right to the best route across the mountains; Helen found it quite as exciting as music, and said so.
"Perhaps it is a kind of music," said Mr. Harrison, laughing; "it is the only kind I have cared anything about, excepting yours."
"I had no idea people had to work so hard in the world," said Helen, dodging the compliment.
"They do, unless they have someone else to do it for them," said the other. "It is a, fierce race, nowadays, and a man has to watch and think every minute of the time. But it is glorious to triumph."
Helen found herself already a little more in a position to realize what ten million dollars amounted to, and very much more respectful and awe-stricken in her relation to them. She was sufficiently oblivious to the flight of time to be quite surprised when she gazed about her, and discovered that they were within a couple of miles of home. "I had no idea of how quickly we were going," she said.
"You are not tired, then?" asked the other.
"No indeed," Helen answered, "I enjoyed it ever so much."
"We might drive farther," said Mr. Harrison; "these horses are hardly waked up."
He reined them in a little and glanced at his watch. "It's just eleven," he said, "I think there'd be time," and he turned to her with a smile. "Would you like to have an adventure?" he asked.
"I generally do," replied the girl. "What is it?"
"I was thinking of a drive," said the other; "one that we could just about take and return by lunch-time; it is about ten miles from here."
"What is it?" asked Helen.
"I have just bought a country place near here," said Mr. Harrison. "I thought perhaps you would like to see it."
"My aunt spoke of it," Helen answered; "the Eversons' old home."
"Yes," said the other; "you know it, then?"
"I only saw it once in my life, when I was a very little girl," Helen replied, "and so I have only a dim recollection of its magnificence; the old man who lived there never saw any company."
"It had to be sold because he failed in business," said Mr. Harrison. "Would you like to drive over?"
"Very much," said Helen, and a minute later, when they came to a fork in the road, they took the one which led them to "Fairview," as the place was called.
"I think it a tremendously fine property myself," said Mr. Harrison; "I made up my mind to have it the first time I saw it. I haven't seen anything around here to equal it, and I hope to make a real English country-seat out of it. I'll tell you about what I want to do when we get there, and you can give me your advice; a man never has good taste, you know."
"I should like to see it," answered Helen, smiling; "I have a passion for fixing up things."
"We had an exciting time at the sale," went on Mr. Harrison reminiscently. "You know Mr. Everson's family wanted to keep the place themselves, and the three or four branches of the family had clubbed together to buy it; when the bidding got near the end, there was no one left but the family and myself."
"And you got it?" said Helen. "How cruel!"
"The strongest wins," laughed the other. "I had made up my mind to have it. The Eversons are a very aristocratic family, aren't they?"
"Yes," said Helen, "very, indeed; they have lived in this part of the country since the Revolution." As Mr. Harrison went on to tell her the story of the sale she found herself vividly reminded of what her aunt had told her of the difference between having a good deal of money and all the money one wanted. Perhaps, also, her companion was not without some such vaguely felt purpose in the telling. At any rate, the girl was trembling inwardly more and more at the prospect which was unfolding itself before her; as excitement always acted upon her as a stimulant, she was at her very best during the rest of the drive. She and her companion were conversing very merrily indeed when Fairview was reached.
The very beginning of the place was imposing, for there was a high wall along the roadway for perhaps a quarter of a mile, and then two massive iron gates set in great stone pillars; they were opened by the gate-keeper in response to Mr. Harrison's call. Once inside the two had a drive of some distance through what had once been a, handsome park, though it was a semi-wilderness then. The road ascended somewhat all the way, until the end of the forest was reached, and the first view of the house was gained; Helen could scarcely restrain a cry of pleasure as she saw it, for it was really a magnificent old mansion, built of weather-beaten gray stone, and standing upon a high plateau, surrounded by a lawn and shaded by half a dozen great oaks; below it the lawn sloped in a broad terrace, and in the valley thus formed gleamed a little trout-pond, set off at the back by a thickly-wooded hillside.
"Isn't it splendid!" the girl exclaimed, gazing about her.
"I thought it was rather good," said Mr. Harrison, deprecatingly. "It can be made much finer, of course."
"When you take your last year's hay crop from the lawn, for one thing," laughed she. "But I had no idea there was anything so beautiful near our little Oakdale. Just look at that tremendous entrance!"
"It's all built in royal style," said Mr. Harrison. "The family must have been wealthy in the old days."
"Probably slave-dealers, or something of that kind," observed Helen. "Is the house all furnished inside?"
"Yes," said the other, "but I expect to do most of it over. Wouldn't you like to look?" He asked the question as he saw the gate-keeper coming up the road, presumably with the keys.
The girl gazed about her dubiously; she would have liked to go in, except that she was certain it would be improper. Helen had never had much respect for the proprieties, however, being accustomed to rely upon her own opinions of things; and in the present case, besides, she reflected that no one would ever know anything about it.
"We'd not have time to do more than glance around," continued the other, "but we might do that, if you like."
"Yes," said Helen, after a moment more of hesitation, "I think I should."
Her heart was beating very fast as the two ascended the great stone steps and as the door opened before them; her mind could not but be filled with the overwhelming thought that all that she saw might be hers if she really wanted it. The mere imagining of Mr. Harrison's wealth had been enough to make her thrill and burn, so it was to be expected that the actual presence of some of it would not fail of its effect. It is to be observed that the great Temptation took place upon a high mountain, where the kingdoms of the earth could really be seen; and Helen as she gazed around had the further knowledge that the broad landscape and palatial house, which to her were almost too splendid to be real, were after all but a slight trifle to her companion.
The girl entered the great hallway, with its huge fireplace and its winding stairway, and then strolled through the parlors of the vast house; Helen had in all its fullness the woman's passion for spending money for beautiful things, and it had been her chief woe in all her travels that the furniture and pictures and tapestry which she gazed at with such keen delight must be forever beyond her thoughts. Just at present her fancy was turned loose and madly reveling in these memories, while always above her wildest flights was the intoxicating certainty that there was no reason why they should not all be possible. She could not but recollect with a wondering smile that only yesterday she had been happy at the thought of arranging one dingy little parlor in her country parsonage, and had been trying to persuade her father to the extravagance of re-covering two chairs.
It would have been hard for Helen to keep her emotions from Mr. Harrison, and he must have guessed the reason why she was so flushed and excited. They were standing just then in the center of the great dining-room, with its massive furniture of black mahogany, and she was saying that it ought to be papered in dark red, and was conjuring up the effect to herself. "Something rich, you know, to set off the furniture," she explained.
"And you must take that dreadful portrait from over the mantel," she added, laughing. (It was a picture of a Revolutionary warrior, on horseback and in full uniform, the coloring looking like faded oilcloth.)
"I had thought of that myself," said Mr. Harrison. "It's the founder of the Eversons; there's a picture gallery in a hall back of here, with two whole rows of ancestors in it."
"Why don't you adopt them?" asked Helen mischievously.
"One can buy all the ancestors one wants to, nowadays," laughed Mr. Harrison. "I thought I'd make something more interesting out of it. I'm not much of a judge of art, you know, but I thought if I ever went abroad I'd buy up some of the great paintings that one reads about--some of the old masters, you know."
"I'm afraid you'd find very few of them for sale," said Helen, smiling.
"I'm not accustomed to fail in buying things that I want," was the other's reply. "Are you fond of pictures?"
"Very much indeed," answered the girl. As a matter of fact, the mere mention of the subject opened a new kingdom to her, for she could not count the number of times she had sat before beautiful pictures and almost wept at the thought that she could never own one that was really worth looking at. "I brought home a few myself," she said to her companion,--"just engravings, you know, half a dozen that I thought would please me; I mean to hang them around my music-room."
"Tell me about it," said Mr, Harrison. "I have been thinking of fixing up such a place myself, you know. I thought of extending the house on the side that has the fine view of the valley, and making part a piazza, and part a conservatory or music-room."
"It could be both!" exclaimed the girl, eagerly. "That would be the very thing; there ought not to be anything in a music-room, you know, except the piano and just a few chairs, and the rest all flowers. The pictures ought all to be appropriate--pictures of nature, of things that dance and are beautiful; oh, I could lose myself in such a room as that!" and Helen ran on, completely carried away by the fancy, and forgetting even Mr. Harrison for a moment.
"I have often dreamed of such a place," she said, "where everything would be sympathetic; it's a pity that one can't have a piano taken out into the fields, the way I remember reading that Haydn used to do with his harpsichord. If I were a violinist, that's the way I'd do all my playing, because then one would not need to be afraid to open his eyes; oh, it would be fine--"
Helen stopped; she was at the height of her excitement just then; and the climax came a moment afterwards. "Miss Davis," asked the man, "would you really like to arrange such a music-room?"
The tone of his voice was so different that the girl comprehended instantly; it was this moment to which she had been rushing with so much exultation; but when it came her heart almost stopped beating, and she gave a choking gasp.
"Would you really like it?" asked Mr. Harrison again, bending towards her earnestly.
"Why, certainly," said Helen, making one blind and desperate effort to dodge the issue. "I'll tell you everything that is necessary."
"That is not what I mean, Miss Davis!"
"Not?" echoed Helen, and she tried to look at him with her frank, open eyes; but when she saw his burning look, she could not; she dropped her eyes and turned scarlet.
"Miss Davis," went on the man rapidly, "I have been waiting for a chance to tell you this. Let me tell you now!"
Helen gazed wildly about her once, as if she would have fled; then she stood with her arms lying helplessly at her sides, trembling in every nerve.
"There is very little pleasure that one can get from such beautiful things alone, Miss Davis, and especially when he is as dulled by the world as myself. I thought that some day I might be able to share them with some one who could enjoy them more than I, but I never knew who that person was until last night. I know that I have not much else to offer you, except what wealth and position I have gained; and when I think of all your accomplishments, and all that you have to place you so far beyond me, I almost fear to offer myself to you. But I can only give what I have--my humble admiration of your beauty and your powers; and the promise to worship you, to give the rest of my life to seeing that you have everything in the world that you want. I will put all that I own at your command, and get as much more as I can, with no thought but of your happiness."
Mr. Harrison could not have chosen words more fitted to win the trembling girl beside him; that, he should recognize as well as she did her superiority to him, removed half of his deficiency in her eyes.
"Miss Davis," the other went on, "I cannot know how you will feel toward such a promise, but I cannot but feel that what I possess could give you opportunities of much happiness. You should have all the beauty about you that you wished, for there is nothing in the world too beautiful for you; and you should have every luxury that money can buy, to save you from all care. If this house seemed too small for you, you should have another wherever you desired it, and be mistress of it, and of everything in it; and if you cared for a social career, you should have everything to help you, and it would be my one happiness to see your triumph. I would give a thousand times what I own to have you for my wife."
So the man continued, pleading his cause, until at last he stopped, waiting anxiously for a sign from the girl; he saw that she was agitated, for her breast was heaving, and her forehead flushed, but he could not tell the reason. "Perhaps, Miss Davis," he said, humbly, "you will scorn such things as I have to offer you; tell me, is it that?"
Helen answered him, in a faint voice, "It is not that, Mr. Harrison; it is,--it is,--"
"What, Miss Davis?"
"It has been but a day! I have had no time to know you--to love you."
And Helen stopped, afraid at the words she herself was using; for she knew that for the first time in her life she had stooped to a sham and a lie. Her whole soul was ablaze with longing just then, with longing for the power and the happiness which this man held out to her; and she meant to take him, she had no longer a thought of resistance. It was all the world which offered itself to her, and she meant to clasp it to her--to lose herself quite utterly and forget herself in it, and she was already drunk with the thought. Therefore she could not but shudder as she heard the word "love" upon her lips, and knew that she had used it because she wished to make a show of hesitation.
"I did not need but one day, Miss Davis," went on the other pleadingly, "to know that I loved you--to know that I no longer set any value on the things that I had struggled all my life to win; for you are perfect, Miss Davis. You are so far beyond me that I have scarcely the courage to ask you what I do. But I _must_ ask you, and know my fate."
He stopped again and gazed at her; and Helen looked at him wildly, and then turned away once more, trembling. She wished that he would only continue still longer, for the word was upon her lips, and yet it was horror for her to utter it, because she felt she ought not to yield so soon,--because she wanted some delay; she sought for some word that would be an evasion, that would make him urge her more strongly; she wished to be wooed and made to surrender, and yet she could find no pretext.
"Answer me, Miss Davis!" exclaimed the other, passionately.
"What--what do you wish me to say?" asked Helen faintly.
"I wish you to tell me that you will be my wife; I wish you to take me for what I can give you for your happiness and your glory. I ask nothing else, I make no terms; if you will do it, it will make me the happiest man in the world. There is nothing else that I care for in life."
And then as the girl still stood, flushed and shuddering, hovering upon the verge, he took her hand in his and begged her to reply. "You must not keep me in suspense!" he exclaimed. "You must tell me,--tell me."
And Helen, almost sinking, answered him "Yes!" It was such a faint word that she scarcely heard it herself, but the other heard it, and trembling with delight, he caught her in his arms and pressed a burning kiss upon her cheek.
The effect surprised him; for the fire which had burned Helen and inflamed her cheeks had been ambition, and ambition alone. It was the man's money that she wanted and she was stirred with no less horror than ever at the thought of the price to be paid; therefore the touch of his rough mustache upon her cheek acted upon her as an electric contact, and all the shame in her nature burst into flame. She tore herself loose with almost a scream. "No, no!" she cried. "Stop!"
Mr. Harrison gazed at her in astonishment for a moment, scarcely able to find a word to say. "Miss Davis," he protested, "Helen--what is the matter?"
"You had no right to do that!" she cried, trembling with anger.
"Helen!" protested the other, "have you not just promised to be my wife?" And the words made the girl turn white and drop her eyes in fear.
"Yes, yes," she panted helplessly, "but you should not--it is too soon!" The other stood watching her, perhaps divining a little of the cause of her agitation, and feeling, at any rate, that he could be satisfied for the present with his success. He answered, very humbly, "Perhaps you are right; I am very sorry for offending you," and stood silently waiting until the girl's emotions had subsided a little, and she had looked at him again. "You will pardon me?" he asked.
"Yes, yes," she said, weakly, "only--"
"And you will not forget the promise you have made me?"
"No," she answered, and then she gazed anxiously toward the door. "Let us go," she said imploringly; "it is all so hard for me to realize, and I feel so very faint."
The two went slowly down the hallway, Mr. Harrison not even venturing to offer her his arm; outside they stood for a minute upon the high steps, Helen leaning against a pillar and breathing very hard. She dared not raise her eyes to the man beside her.
"You wish to go now?" he asked, gently.
"Yes, please," she replied, "I think so; it is very late."
Helen scarcely knew what happened during the drive home, for she passed it in a half-dazed condition, almost overwhelmed by what she had done. She answered mechanically to all Mr. Harrison's remarks about his arrangements of the house and his plans elsewhere, but all reference to his wealth seemed powerless to waken in her a trace of the exultation that had swept her away before, while every allusion to their personal relationship was like the touch of fire. Her companion seemed to divine the fact, and again he begged her anxiously not to forget the promise she had given. Helen answered faintly that she would not; but the words were hard for her to say and it was an infinite relief to her to see Oakdale again, and to feel that the strain would soon be over, for the time at any rate.
"I shall stay somewhere in the neighborhood," said Mr. Harrison. "You will let me see you often, Helen, will you not?"
"Yes," answered Helen, mechanically.
"I will come to-morrow," said the other, "and take you driving if you like; I promised to go back and lunch with your aunt to-day, as I thought I was to return to the city." In a moment more the carriage stopped in front of Helen's home, and the girl, without waiting for anyone to assist her, leaped out and with a hasty word of parting, ran into the house. She heard the horses trotting away, and then the door closed behind her, and she stood in the dark, silent hallway. She saw no one, and after gazing about her for a moment she stole into her little music-room and flung herself down upon the couch, where she lay with her head buried in her hands.
It was a long time afterwards when she glanced up again; she was trembling all over, and her face was white.
"In Heaven's name, how can I have done it?" she whispered hoarsely, to herself. "How can I have done it? And what _am_ I to do now?"
Nur wer der Minne Macht ent-sagt, nur wer der Liebe Lust verjagt