"Wie kommt's, dass du so traurig bist, Da alles froh erscheint? Man sieht dir's an den Augen an, Gewiss, du hast geweint."
Helen might have spent the afternoon in that situation, tormenting herself with the doubts and fears that filled her mind, had it not been for the fact that her presence was discovered by Elizabeth, the servant, who came in to clean the room. The latter of course was astonished to see her, but Helen was in no mood to vouchsafe explanations.
"Just leave me alone," she said. "I do not feel very well. And don't tell father I am here yet."
"Your father, Miss Helen!" exclaimed the woman; "didn't you get his letter?"
"What letter?" And then poor Helen was made aware of another trouble.
"Mr. Davis wrote Mrs. Roberts last night," answered the servant. "He's gone away."
"Away!" cried the girl. "Where to?"
"To New York." Then the woman went on to explain that Mr. Davis had been invited to take the place of a friend who was ill, and had left Oakdale for a week. Helen understood that the letter must have reached her aunt after her own departure.
"Dear me!" the girl exclaimed, "How unfortunate! I don't want to stay here alone."
But afterwards it flashed over her that if she did she might be able to have a week of quiet to regain her self-possession. "Mr. Harrison couldn't expect to visit me if I were alone," she thought. "But then, I suppose he could, too," she added hastily, "if I am engaged to him! And I could never stand that!"
"Miss Helen," said the servant, who had been standing and watching her anxiously, "you look very ill; is anything the matter?"
"Nothing," Helen answered, "only I want to rest. Leave me alone, please, Elizabeth."
"Are you going to stay?" the other asked; "I must fix up your room."
"I'll have to stay," said Helen. "There's nothing else to do."
"Have you had lunch yet?"
"No, but I don't want any; just let me be, please."
Helen expected the woman to protest, but she did not. She turned away, and the girl sank back upon the couch and covered her face again.
"Everything has gone wrong!" she groaned to herself, "I know I shall die of despair; I don't want to be here all alone with Mr. Harrison coming here. Dear me, I wish I had never seen him!"
And Helen's nervous impatience grew upon her, until she could stand it no more, and she sprang up and began pacing swiftly up and down the room; she was still doing that when she heard a step in the hall and saw the faithful servant in the doorway with a tray of luncheon. Elizabeth asked no questions about matters that did not concern her, but she regarded this as her province, and she would pay no attention to Helen's protests. "You'll be ill if you don't eat," she vowed; "you look paler than I ever saw you."
And so the girl sat down to attempt to please her, Elizabeth standing by and talking to her in the meantime; but Helen was so wrapped up in her own thoughts that she scarcely heard a word--until the woman chanced to ask one question: "Did you hear about Mr. Arthur?"
And Helen gazed up at her. "Hear about him?" she said, "hear what about him?"
"He's very ill," said Elizabeth. Helen gave a start.
"Ill!" she gasped.
"Yes," said Elizabeth, "I thought you must know; Mr. Davis was over to see him yesterday."
"What is the matter?"
"The doctor said he must have been fearfully run down, and he was out in the storm and caught a cold; and he's been in a very bad way, delirious and unconscious by turns for two or three days."
Helen was staring at the servant in a dumb fright. "Tell me, Elizabeth," she cried, scarcely able to say the words, "he is not dangerously ill?"
"The danger is over now," the other answered, "so the doctor said, or else Mr. Davis would never have left; but he's in a bad way and it may be some time before he's up again."
Perhaps it was the girl's overwrought condition that made her more easily alarmed just then, for she was trembling all over as she heard those words. She had forgotten Arthur almost entirely during the past two days, and he came back to her at that moment as another thorn in her conscience.
"Mr. Davis said he wrote you to go and see him," went on the servant; "shall you, Miss Helen?"
"I--I don't know," said Helen faintly, "I'll see."
As a matter of fact, she knew that she almost certainly would _not_ go to see Arthur after what had just passed; even to have him find out about it was something of which she simply could not think. She felt dread enough at having to tell her father of what had occurred with Mr. Harrison, and to see Arthur, even though he did not know about it, she knew was not in her power.
"Perhaps I ought not to have told you about it until after you had had your lunch; you are not eating anything, Miss Helen."
"I don't want anything," said Helen, mournfully; "take it now, please, Elizabeth, and please do not trouble me any more. I have a great deal to worry me."
When the woman had left the room, Helen shut the door and then sat down on a chair, staring blankly before her; there was a mirror just across the room, and her own image caught her eye, startling her by its pale and haggard look.
"Dear me, it's dreadful!" she cried aloud, springing up. "Why _did_ I let people trouble me in this way? I can't help Arthur, and I couldn't have helped him in the beginning. It's every bit of it his own fault, and I don't see why I should let it make me ill. And it's the same with the other thing; I could have been happy without all that wealth if I'd never seen it, and now I know I'll never be happy again,--oh, I know it!"
And Helen began once more pacing up and down.
"I never was this way before in my life," she cried with increasing vexation, "and I won't have it!"
She clenched her hands angrily, struggling within herself to shake off what was tormenting her. But she might as well have tried to shake off a mountain from her shoulders; hers had been none of the stern experience that gives power and command to the character, and of the kind of energy that she needed she had none, and not even a thought of it. She tried only to forget her troubles in some of her old pleasures, and when she found that she could not read, and that the music she tried to play sounded hollow and meaningless, she could only fling herself down upon the sofa with a moan. There, realizing her own impotence, she sank into dull despair, unable any longer to realize the difficulties which troubled her, and with only one certainty in her mind--that she was more lost and helpless than she had ever thought it possible for her to be.
Time is not a thing of much consequence under such circumstances, and it was a couple of hours before Helen was aroused. She heard a carriage stop at the door, and sprang up in alarm, with the thought that it might be Mr. Harrison. But as she stood trembling in the middle of the room she heard a voice inquiring for her, and recognized it as that of her aunt; a moment later Mrs. Roberts rushed into the room, and catching sight of Helen, flung her arms eagerly about her.
"My dear girl," she cried, "Mr. Harrison has just told me about what has happened!" And then as she read her niece's state of mind in her countenance, she added, "I expected to find you rejoicing, Helen; what is the matter?"
In point of fact the woman had known pretty well just how she would find Helen, and having no idea of leaving her to her own tormenting fancies, she had driven over the moment she had finished her lunch. "I received your father's letter," she said, without waiting for Helen to answer her, "so I came right over to take you back."
"To take me back!" echoed Helen.
"Yes, my dear; you don't suppose I mean to leave you here all alone by yourself, do you? And especially at such a time as this, when Mr. Harrison wants to see you?"
"But, Aunt Polly," protested Helen, "I don't want to see him!"
"Don't want to see him? Why, my dear girl, you have promised to be his wife!"
Mrs. Roberts saw Helen shudder slightly, and so she went on quickly, "He is going to stay at the hotel in the village; you won't find it the same as being in the house with him. But I do assure you, child, there never was a man more madly in love than he is."
"But, Auntie, dear, that Mr. Howard, too!" protested Helen, trembling.
"He will not interfere with you, for he never makes any noise; and you'll not know he's there. Of course, you won't play the piano, but you can do anything else you choose. And Mr. Harrison will probably take you driving every day." Then seeing how agitated Helen was, her aunt put her arms around her again, and led her to the sofa. "Come, Helen," she said," I don't blame you for being nervous. I know just how you feel, my dear."
"Oh, Aunt Polly!" moaned the girl. "I am so wretched!"
"I know," laughed Aunt Polly; "it's the idea of having to marry him, I suppose; I felt the very same way when I was in your place. But you'll find that wears off very quickly; you'll get used to seeing him. And besides, you know that you've _got_ to marry him, if you want any of the other happiness!"
And Mrs. Roberts stopped and gazed about her. "Think, for instance, my dear," she went on, "of having to be content with this dingy little room, after having seen that magnificent place of his! Do you know, Helen, dear, that I really envy you; and it seems quite ridiculous to come over here and find you moping around. One would think you were a hermit and did not care anything about life."
"I do care about it," said the other, "and I love beautiful things and all; but, Aunt Polly, I can't help thinking it's dreadful to have to marry."
"Come and learn to like Mr. Harrison," said the other, cheerfully. "Helen, you are really too weak to ruin your peace of mind in this way; for you could see if you chose that all your troubles are of your own making, and that if you were really determined to be happy, you could do it. Why don't you, dear?"
"I don't know," protested the girl, faintly; "perhaps I am weak, but I can't help it."
"Of course not," laughed the other, "if you spend your afternoons shut up in a half-dark room like this. When you come with me you won't be able to do that way; and I tell you you'll find there's nothing like having social duties and an appearance to maintain in the world to keep one cheerful. If you didn't have me at your elbow I really believe you'd go all to pieces."
"I fear I should," said the girl; but she could not help laughing as she allowed herself to be led upstairs, and to have the dust bathed from her face and the wrinkles smoothed from her brow. In the meantime her diplomatic aunt was unobtrusively dropping as many hints as she could think of to stir Helen to a sense of the fact that she had suddenly become a person of consequence; and whether it was these hints or merely the reaction natural to Helen, it is certain that she was much calmer when she went down to the carriage, and much more disposed to resign herself to meeting Mr. Harrison again. And Mrs. Roberts was correspondingly glad that she had been foreseeing enough to come and carry her away; she had great confidence in her ability to keep Helen from foolish worrying, and to interest her in the great future that was before her.
"And then it's just as well that she should be at my house where she can find the comfort that she loves," she reflected. "I can see that she learns to love it more every day."
The great thing, of course, was to keep her ambition as much awake as possible, and so during the drive home Mrs. Roberts' conversation was of the excitement which the announcement of Helen's engagement would create in the social world, and of the brilliant triumph which the rest of her life would be, and of the vast preparations which she was to make for it. The trousseau soon came in for mention then; and what woman could have been indifferent to a trousseau, even for a marriage which she dreaded? After that the conversation was no longer a task, for Helen's animation never failed to build itself up when it was once awake; she was so pleased and eager that the drive was over before she knew it, and before she had had time for even one unpleasant thought about meeting Mr. Harrison.
It proved not to be a difficult task after all, for Mr. Harrison was quiet and dignified, and even a little reserved, as Helen thought, so that it occurred to her that perhaps he was offended at the vehemence with which she had repelled him. She did not know, but it seemed to her that perhaps it might have been his right to embrace her after she had promised to marry him; the thought made her shudder, yet she felt sure that if she had asked her aunt she would have learned that she was very much in the wrong indeed. Helen's conscience was very restless just at that time, and it was pleasant to be able to lull it by being a little more gracious and kind to her ardent lover. The latter of course responded joyfully, so that the remainder of the afternoon passed quite pleasantly.
When Mr. Roberts arrived and had been acquainted with the tidings, he of course sought the first opportunity to see the girl, and to congratulate her upon her wonderful fortune. Helen had always found in her uncle a grave, business-like person, who treated her with indifference, and therefore inspired her with awe; it was not a little stirring to her vanity to find that she was now a person of sufficient consequence to reverse the relation. This fact did yet a little more to make her realize the vastness of her sudden conquest, and so throughout dinner she was almost as exulting in her own heart as she had been at the same time on the previous day.
Her animation mounted throughout the evening, for Mr. Harrison and her aunt talked of the future--of endless trips abroad, and of palatial houses and royal entertainments at home--until the girl was completely dazed. Afterwards, when she and Mr. Harrison were left alone, Helen fascinated her companion as completely as ever, and was radiant herself, and rejoicing. As if to cap the climax, Mr. Harrison broached the subject of a trip to New York, to see if she could find anything at the various picture dealers to suit her music room, and also of a visit to Fairview to meet an architect and discuss her plan there.
The girl went up to her room just as completely full of exultation as she had been upon the night before, yet more comfortable in the conviction that there would be no repetition of that night's worry. Yet even as the thought occurred to her, it made her tremble; and as if some fiend had arranged it especially for her torment, as she passed down the hall a nurse came silently out of one of the rooms, and through the half open doorway Helen fancied that she heard a low moan. She shuddered and darted into her own room and locked the door; yet that did not exclude the image of the sufferer, or keep it from suggesting a train of thought that plunged the girl into misery. It made her think of Arthur, and of the haggard look that had been upon his face when he left her; and all Helen's angry assertions that it was not her fault could not keep her from tormenting herself after that. Always the fact was before her that however sick he might be, even dying, she could never bear to see him again, and so Arthur became the embodiment of her awakening conscience.
The result was that the girl slept very little that night, spending half of it in fact alternately sitting in a chair and pacing the room in agitation, striving in vain to find some gleam of light to guide her out of the mazes in which she was lost. The gray dawn found her tossing feverishly about upon her pillow, yearning for the time when she had been happy, and upbraiding herself for having been drawn into her present trouble.
When she arose later on, she was more pale and wearied than she had been upon the morning before; then she had at least possessed a resolution, while this time she was only helpless and despairing. Thus her aunt found her when she came in to greet her, and the dismay of the worthy matron may be imagined.
However, being an indefatigable little body, she set bravely to work again; first of all, by rebuking the girl for her weakness she managed to rouse her to effort once more, and then by urging the necessity of seeing people and of hiding her weakness, she managed to obtain at last a semblance of cheerfulness. In the meantime Mrs. Roberts was helping her to dress and to remove all traces of her unhappiness, so that when Helen descended to breakfast she had received her first lesson in one of the chief tasks of the social regime:
"Full many in the silent night Have wept their grief away; And in the morn you fancy Their hearts were ever gay."And Helen played her part so well that Mrs. Roberts was much encouraged, and beamed upon her across the table. As a, matter of fact, because her natural happiness was not all crushed, and because playing a part was not easy to the girl, she was very soon interested in the various plans that were being discussed. When Mr. Harrison called later on and proposed a drive, she accepted with genuine pleasure.
To be sure, she found it a trifle less thrilling than on the day before, for the novelty was gone; but that fact did not cause her much worry. In all her anticipations of the pleasure before her, it had occurred to her as little as it occurs to others in her situation to investigate the laws of the senses through which the pleasure is to be obtained. There is a whole moral philosophy to be extracted from the little word "ennui" by those who know; but Helen was not of the knowing. She believed that when she was tired of the horses she could delight herself with her beautiful house, and that when she was tired of the house she could have a new one. All her life she had been deriving ecstasy from beautiful things, from dresses, and flowers, and books, and music, and pictures; and of course it was only necessary to have an infinite quantity of such things in order to be infinitely happy. The way to have the infinite quantity was to marry Mr. Harrison, or at any rate that was Helen's view, and she was becoming more and more irritated because it did not work well in practice, and more and more convinced that her aunt must be right in blaming her weakness.
In the meantime, being in the open air and among all the things that she loved, she was bound to rejoice once more; and rejoice she did, not even allowing herself to be hindered by Mr. Harrison's too obvious failures to comprehend her best remarks. Helen argued that she was not engaged to the man because of his cleverness, and that when she had come to the infinite happiness towards which she was traveling so fast, she would have inspiration enough for two. She had enough for the present to keep them both happy throughout the drive, and when she returned she found that some of the neighbors had driven over to see her, and to increase her excitement by their congratulations. The Machiavellian Aunt Polly had told the news to several friends on the day before, knowing full well that it would spread during the night, and that Helen would have her first taste of triumph the next day.
And so it continued, and exactly as on the night before, the feverish excitement swept Helen on until the bedtime hour arrived. Then she went up into her room alone, to wrestle with the same dreadful specter as before.
The story of that day was the story of all that followed; Helen was destined to find that she might sweep herself away upon the wings of her ambition as often as she chose, and revel all she pleased in the thought of Mr. Harrison's wealth; but when the excitement was over, and she came to be all alone, she could think only of the one dreadful fact of the necessity of marrying him. She was paying a Faustus price for her happiness; and in the night time the price stared at her, and turned all her happiness to misery.
A state of mind such as this was so alien to Helen that it would have been strange indeed if she had sunk into it without protest and rebellion; as day after day passed, and the misery continued, her dissatisfaction with everything about her built itself into a climax; more and more plainly she was coming to see the widening of the gulf between the phantom she was pursuing and the place, where she stood. Finally there came one day, nearly a week after her engagement, when Helen was so exhausted and so wretched that she had made up her mind to remain in her room, and had withstood all her aunt's attempts to dissuade her. She had passed the morning in bed, between equally vain attempts to become interested in a book and to make up for the sleep she had missed during the night, and was just about giving up both in despair when the maid entered to say that Elizabeth wished to see her. Helen gave a start, for she knew that something must be wrong; when the woman entered she asked breathlessly what it was.
"It's about Mr. Arthur," was the hurried reply, and Helen turned paler than ever, and clutched the bedclothing in her trembling hands.
"What is it?" she cried.
"Why you know, Miss Helen," said Elizabeth, "your father wrote me to go and see him whenever I could, and I've just come from there this morning."
"And how is he?"
"He looked dreadful, but he had gotten up to-day, and he was sitting by the window when I came in. He was hardly a shadow of himself."
Helen was trembling. "You have not been to see him?" asked the woman.
"No," said Helen, faintly, "I--" and then she stopped.
"Why not?" Elizabeth inquired anxiously.
"He did not ask for me, did he?" asked the girl, scarcely able to utter the words.
"No," said the woman, "but you know, everybody told me you were engaged to a rich man--"
And Helen started forwrard with a cry. "Elizabeth!" she gasped, "you--you didn't---!"
"Yes," said the other, "I told him." And then seeing the girl's look of terror, she stopped short. Helen stared at her for fully half a minute without uttering a word; and then the woman went on, slowly, "It was very dreadful, Miss Helen; he went almost crazy, and I was so frightened that I didn't know what I should do. Please tell me what is the matter."
Helen was still gazing dumbly at the woman, seeming not to have heard the last question. "I--I can't tell you," she said, when it was repeated again; "you ought not to have told him, Elizabeth."
"Miss Helen," cried the woman, anxiously, "you _must_ do something! For I am sure that I know what is the matter; he loves you, and you must know it, too. And it will certainly kill him; weak as he was, he rushed out of the house, and I could not find him anywhere. Miss Helen, you _must_ go and see him!"
The girl sat with the same look of helpless fright upon her face, and with her hands clenched tightly between her knees; the other went on talking hurriedly, but Helen scarcely heard anything after that; her mind was too full of its own thoughts. It was several minutes more before she even noticed that the woman was still insisting that she must go to see Artheur. "Please leave me now!" she cried wildly; "please leave me! I cannot explain anything,--I want to be alone!" And when the door was shut she became once more dumb and motionless, staring blankly ahead of her, a helpless victim of her own wretched thoughts.
"That is the end of it," she groaned to herself; "oh, that is the end of it!"
Winkt dir nicht hold die hehre Burg?