"Peace! Sit you down, And let me wring your heart; for so I shall, If it be made of penetrable stuff."
Helen ran up to her room when she reached home, and shut herself in, and after that she had nothing to do but suffer. All of her excitement was gone from her then, and with it every spark of her strength; the fiends that had been pursuing her rose up and seized hold of her, and lashed her until she writhed and cried aloud in agony. She was helpless to resist them, knowing not which way to turn or what to do,--completely cowed and terrified. But there was no more sinking into the dull despair that had mastered her before; the face of Arthur, as she had seen it in that one glimpse, had been burned into her memory with fire, and she could not shut it from her sight; when the fact that he had come from the tavern, and what that must mean rose before her, it was almost more than she could bear, cry out as she might that she could not help it, that she never could have helped it, that she had nothing to do with it. Moreover, if there was any possibility of the girl's driving out that specter, there was always another to take its place. It was not until she was alone in her room, until all her resolution was gone, and all of her delusions, that she realized the actual truth about what she had done that afternoon; it was like a nightmare to her then. She seemed always to feel the man's arms clasping her, and whenever she thought of his kisses her forehead burned her like fire, so that she flung herself down by the bedside, and buried it in the pillows.
It was thus that her aunt found her when she came in to call Helen to dinner; and this time the latter's emotions were so real and so keen that there was no prevailing over them, or persuading her to anything. "I don't want to eat!" she cried again and again in answer to her aunt's alarmed insistence. "No, I am not coming down! I want to be alone! Alone, Aunt Polly--please leave me alone!"
"But, Helen," protested Mrs. Roberts, "won't you please tell me what is the matter? What in the world can have happened to you?"
"I can't tell you," the girl cried hysterically. "I want you to go and leave me alone!" And she shut the door and locked it, and then began pacing wildly up and down the room, heedless of the fact that her aunt was still standing out in the hallway; the girl was too deeply shaken just then to have any thought about appearances.
She was thinking about Arthur again, and about his fearful plight; there rushed back upon her all the memories of their childhood, and of the happiness which they had known together. The thought of the broken figure which she had seen by the roadside became more fearful to her every moment. It was not that it troubled her conscience, for Helen could still argue to herself that she had done nothing to wrong her friend, that there had been nothing selfish in her attitude towards him; she had wished him to be happy. It seemed to her that it was simply a result of the cruel perversity of things that she had been trampling upon her friend's happiness in order to reach her own, and that all her struggling had only served to make things worse. The fact that it was not her fault, however, did not make the situation seem less tragic and fearful to her; it had come to such a crisis now that it drove her almost mad to think about it, yet she was completely helpless to know what to do, and as she strode up and down the room, she clasped her hands to her aching head and cried aloud in her perplexity.
Then too her surging thoughts hurried on to another unhappiness,--to her father, and what he would say when he learned the dreadful news. How could she explain it to him? And how could she tell him about her marriage? At the mere thought of that the other horror seized upon her again, and she sank down in a chair by the window and hid her face in her hands.
"Oh, how can I have done it?" she gasped to herself. "Oh, it was so dreadful! And what am I to do now?"
That last was the chief question, the one to which all others led; yet it was one to which she could find no answer. She was completely confused and helpless, and she exclaimed aloud again and again, "Oh, if I could only find some one to tell me! I do not know how I can keep Arthur from behaving in that dreadful way, and I know that I cannot ever marry Mr. Harrison!"
The more she tortured herself with these problems, the more agitated she became. She sat there at the window, clutching the sill in her hands and staring out, seeing nothing, and knowing only that the time was flying, and that her anxiety was building itself up and becoming an agony which she could not bear.
"Oh, what am I to do?" she groaned again and again; and she passed hours asking herself the fearful question; the twilight had closed about her, and the moon had risen behind the distant hills.
So oblivious to all things about her was she, that she failed at first to notice something else, something which would ordinarily have attracted her attention at once,--a sound of music which came to her from somewhere near. It was the melody of Grieg's "An den Frubling" played upon a violin, and it had stolen into Helen's heart and become part of her own stormy emotion before she had even thought of what it was or whence it came. The little piece is the very soul of the springtime passion, and to the girl it was the very utterance of all her yearning, lifting her heart in a great throbbing prayer. When it had died away her hands were clenched very tightly, and her breath was coming fast.
She remained thus for a minute, forgetful of everything; then at last she found herself thinking "it must be Mr. Howard," and waiting to see if he would play again. But he did not do so, and Helen sat in silence for a long time, her thoughts turned to him. She found herself whispering "so he is a wonderful musician after all," and noticing that the memory of his wan face frightened her no longer; it seemed just then that there could be no one in the world more wretched than herself. She was only wishing that he would begin again, for that utterance of her grief had seemed like a victory, and now in the silence she was sinking back into her despair. The more she waited, the more impatient she grew, until suddenly she rose from her seat.
"He might play again if I asked him," she said to herself. "He would if he knew I was unhappy; I wonder where he can be?"
Helen's window was in the front of the house, opening upon a broad lawn whose walks were marked in the moonlight by the high shrubbery that lined them. Some distance beyond, down one of the paths, were two summer-houses, and it seemed to her that the music had come from one of them, probably the far one, for it had sounded very soft. No sooner had the thought come to her than she turned and went quietly to the door. She ran quickly down the steps, and seeing her aunt and Mr. Roberts upon the piazza, she turned and passed out by one of the side doors.
Helen had yielded to a sudden impulse in doing thus, drawn by her yearning for the music. When she thought about it as she walked on it seemed to her a foolish idea, for the man could not possibly know of her trouble, and moreover was probably with his friend the lieutenant. But she did not stop even then, for her heart's hunger still drove her on, and she thought, "I'll see, and perhaps he will play again without my asking; I can sit in the near summer-house and wait."
She went swiftly on with that purpose in mind, not going upon the path, because she would have been in the full moonlight, and in sight of the two upon the piazza. She passed silently along by the high hedge, concealed in its shadows, and her footsteps deadened by the grass. She was as quiet as possible, wishing to be in the summer-house without anyone's knowing it.
And she had come very close to it indeed, within a few yards, when suddenly she stopped short with an inward exclamation; the silence of the twilight had been broken by a voice--one that seemed almost beside her, and that startled her with a realization of the mistake she had made. The two men were themselves in the house to which she had been going.
It was Mr. Howard's voice which she heard; he was speaking very low, almost in a whisper, yet Helen was near enough to hear every word that he uttered.
"Most people would think it simply a happy and beautiful piece of music," he said. "Most people think that of the springtime; but when a man has lived as I, he may find that the springtime too is a great labor and a great suffering,--he does not forget that for the thousands of creatures that win the great fight and come forth rejoicing, there are thousands and tens of thousands that go down, and have their mite of life crushed out, and find the law very stern indeed. Even those that win do it by a fearful effort, and cannot keep their beauty long; so that the springtime passion takes on a kind of desperate intensity when one thinks of it."
The voice ceased again for a moment, and Helen stood gazing about her; the words were not without a dimly-felt meaning to her just then, and the tone of the man's voice seemed like the music she had heard him play. She would have liked to stay and listen, tho she knew that she had no right to. She was certain that she had not been seen, because the little house was thickly wrapped about with eglantine; and she stood, uncertain as to whether she ought to steal back or go out and join the two men. In the meantime the voice began again:
"It gives a man a new feeling of the preciousness of life to know keenly what it means to fail, to be like a tiny spark, struggling to maintain itself in the darkness, and finding that all it can do is not sufficient, and that it is sinking back into nothingness forever. I think that is the meaning of the wild and startled look that the creatures of the forest wear; and it is a very tragic thing indeed to realize, and makes one full of mercy. If he knows his own heart he can read the same thing in the faces of men, and he no longer even laughs at their pride and their greediness, but sees them quite infinitely wretched and pitiable. I do not speak merely of the poor and hopeless people, the hunted creatures of society; for this terror is not merely physical. It is the same imperative of life that makes conscience, and so every man knows it who has made himself a slave to his body, and sees the soul within him helpless and sinking; and every man who has sinned and sees his evil stamped upon the face of things outside him, in shapes of terror that must be forever. Strange as it may seem, I think the man who lives most rightly, the man of genius, knows the feeling most of all, because his conscience is the quickest. It is his task to live from his own heart, to take the power that is within him and wrestle with it, and build new universes from it,--to be a pioneer of the soul, so to speak, and to go where no man has ever been before; and yet all his victory is nothing to him, because he knows so well what he might have done. Every time that he shrinks, as he must shrink, from what is so hard and so high in his own vision, he knows that yet another glory is lost forever, and so it comes that he stands very near indeed to the'tears of things.'"
Mr. Howard stopped again, and Helen found herself leaning forward and wondering.
"I know more about those tears than most people," the man went on slowly, after a long pause, "for I have had to build my own life in that way; I know best of all the failure, for that has been my lot. When you and I knew each other, I was very strong in my own heart, and I could always find what joy and power I needed for the living of my life; but there have come to me since, in the years that I have dwelt all alone with my great trial, times when I think that I have stood face to face with this thing that we speak of, this naked tragedy and terror of existence. There have been times when all the yearning and all the prayer that I had could not save me, when I have known that I had not an ounce of resource left, and have sat and watched the impulse of my soul die within me, and all my strength go from me, and seen myself with fearful plainness as a spark of yearning, a living thing in all its pitifulness and hunger, helpless and walled up in darkness. To feel that is to be very near indeed to the losing creatures and their sorrow, and the memory of one such time is enough to keep a man merciful forever. For it is really the deepest fact about life that a man can know;--how it is so hazardous and so precious, how it keeps its head above the great ocean of the infinite only by all the force it can exert; it happens sometimes that a man does not discover that truth until it is too late, and then he finds life very cruel and savage indeed, I can tell you."
Mr. Howard stopped, and Helen drew a deep breath; she had been trembling slightly as she stood listening; then as he spoke again, her heart gave a violent throb. "Some day," he said, "this girl that we were talking about will have to come to that part of her life's journey; it is a very sad thing to know."
"She will understand her sonata better," said the officer.
"No," was the reply; "I wish I could think even that; I know how sorrow affects a person whose heart is true, how it draws him close to the great heart of life, and teaches him its sacredness, and sends him forth merciful and humble. But selfish misery and selfish fear are no less ugly than selfish happiness; a person who suffers ignobly becomes only disgusted and disagreeable, and more selfish than ever. * * * But let us not talk any more about Miss Davis, for it is not a pleasant subject; to a man who seeks as I do to keep his heart full of worship the very air of this place is stifling, with its idleness and pride. It gives the lie to all my faith about life, and I have only to go back into my solitude and forget it as soon as I can."
"That ought not to be a difficult thing to do," said the officer.
"It is for me," the other answered; "it haunts my thoughts all the time." He paused for a while, and then he added, "I happened to think of something I came across this morning, in a collection of French verse I was reading; William, did you ever read anything of Auguste Brizeux?"
The other answered in the negative.
"He has some qualities that are very rare in French poetry," went on Mr. Howard. "He makes one think of Wordsworth. I happened to read a homely little ballad of his,--a story of some of that tragedy of things that we spoke of; one could name hundreds of such poems quite as good, I suppose, but this happened to be the one I came across, and I could not help thinking of Miss Davis and wondering if she were really so cold and so hard that she could have heard this story without shuddering. For it really shook me very much."
"What is it?" the other asked.
"I can tell you the story in a few words," said Mr. Howard. "To me it was one of those flashes of beauty that frighten one and haunt him long afterwards; and I do not quite like to think about it again."
The speaker's voice dropped, and the girl involuntarily crept a little nearer to hear him; there was a tree in front of her, and she leaned against it, breathing very hard, tho making no sound.
"The ballad is called 'Jacques the Mason,'" said Mr. Howard, "There are three little pictures in it; in the first of them you see two men setting off to their work together, one of them bidding his wife and children good-by, and promising to return with his friend for an evening's feast, because the great building is to be finished. Then you see them at work, swarming upon the structure and rejoicing in their success; and then you hear the shouts of the crowd as the scaffolding breaks, and see those two men hanging over the abyss, clinging to a little plank. It is not strong enough to hold them both, and it is cracking, and that means a fearful death; they try to cling to the stones of the building and cannot, and so there comes one of those fearful moments that makes a man's heart break to think of. Then in the fearful silence you hear one of the men whisper that he has three children and a wife; and you see the other gaze at him an instant with terror in his eyes, and then let go his hold and shoot down to the street below. And that is all of the story."
Mr. Howard stopped, and there followed a long silence; afterwards he went on, his voice trembling: "That is all," he said, "except of course that the man was killed. And I can think of nothing but that body hurled down through the air, and the crushed figure and the writhing limbs. I fancy the epic grandeur of soul of that poor ignorant laborer, and the glory that must have flamed up in his heart at that great instant; so I find it a dreadful poem, and wonder if it would not frighten that careless girl to read it."
Mr. Howard stopped again, and the officer asked if the story were true.
"I do not know that," answered the other, "nor do I care; it is enough to know that every day men are called upon to face the shuddering reality of existence in some such form as that. And the question which it brought to my heart is, if it came to me, as terrible as that, and as sudden and implacable, would I show myself the man or the dastard? And that filled me with a fearful awe and humility, and a guilty wonder whether somewhere in the world there might not be a wall from which I should be throwing myself, instead of nursing my illness as I do, and being content to read about greatness. And oh, I tell you, when I think of such things as that, and see the pride and worthlessness of this thing that men call 'high life,' it seemed to me no longer heedless folly, but dastardly and fiendish crime, so that one can only bury his face in his hands and sob to know of it. And William, the more I realized it, the more unbearable it seemed to me that this glorious girl with all her God-given beauty, should be plunging herself into a stream so foul. I felt as if it were cowardice of mine that I did not take her by the hand and try to make her see what madness she was doing."
"Why do you not?" asked the lieutenant.
"I think I should have, in my more Quixotic days," replied the other, sadly; "and perhaps some day I may find myself in a kind of high life where royal sincerity is understood. But in this world even an idealist has to keep a sense of humor, unless he happens to be dowered with an Isaiah's rage."
Mr. Howard paused for a moment and laughed slightly; then, however, he went on more earnestly: "Yet, as I think of it, I know that I could frighten her; I think that if I should tell her of some of the days and nights that I have spent in tossing upon a bed of fire, she might find the cup of her selfishness a trifle less pleasant to drink. It is something that I have noticed with people, that they may be coarse or shallow enough to laugh at virtue and earnestness, but there are very few who do not bow their heads before suffering. For that is something physical; and they may harden their conscience if they please, but from the possibility of bodily pain they know that they can never be safe; and they seem to know that a man who has walked with that demon has laid his hand upon the grim reality of things, before which their shams and vanities shrink into nothingness. The sight of it is always a kind of warning of the seriousness of life, and so even when people feel no sympathy, they cannot but feel fear; I saw for instance, that the first time this girl saw me she turned pale, and she would not come anywhere near me."
As the speaker paused again, Lieutenant Maynard said, very quietly: "I should think that would be a hard cross to bear, David."
"No," said Mr. Howard, with a slight smile, "I had not that thought in my mind. I have seen too much of the reality of life to trouble myself or the the world with vanity of that very crude kind; I can sometimes imagine myself being proud of my serenity, but that is one step beyond at any rate. A man who lives in his soul very seldom thinks of himself in an external way; when I look in the glass it is generally to think how strange it is that this form of mine should be that which represents me to men, and I cannot find anything they might really learn about me, except the one physical fact of suffering."
"They can certainly not fail to learn that," said the other.
"Yes," replied Mr. Howard sadly, "I know, if any man does, what it is to earn one's life by suffering and labor. That is why I have so mastering a sense of life's preciousness, and why I cannot reconcile myself to this dreadful fact of wealth. It is the same thing, too, that makes me feel so keenly about this girl and her beauty, and keeps her in my thoughts. I don't think I could tell you how the sight of her affected me, unless you knew how I have lived all these lonely years. For I have had no friends and no strength for any of the world's work, and all my battle has been with my own soul, to be brave and to keep my self-command through all my trials; I think my illness has acted as a kind of nervous stimulus upon me, as if it were only by laboring to dwell upon the heights of my being night and day that I could have strength to stand against despair. The result is that I have lived for days in a kind of frenzy of effort, with all my faculties at white heat; and it has always been the artist's life, it has always been beauty that brought me the joy that I needed, and given me the strength to go on. Beauty is the sign of victory, and the prize of it, in this heart's battle; the more I have suffered and labored, the more keenly I have come to feel that, until the commonest flower has a song for me. And William, the time I saw this girl she wore a rose in her hair, but she was so perfect that I scarcely saw the flower; there is that in a man's heart which makes it that to him the fairest and most sacred of God's creatures must always be the maiden. When I was young, I walked about the earth half drunk with a dream of love; and even now, when I am twice as old as my years, and burnt out and dying, I could not but start when I saw this girl. For I fancied that she must carry about in that maiden's heart of hers some high notion of what she meant in the world, and what was due to her. When a man gazes upon beauty such as hers, there is a feeling that comes to him that is quite unutterable, a feeling born of all the weakness and failure and sin of his lifetime. For every true man's life is a failure; and this is the vision that he sought with so much pain, the thing that might have been, had he kept the faith with his own genius. It is so that beauty is the conscience of the artist; and that there must always be something painful and terrible about high perfection. It was that way that I felt when I saw this girl's face, and I dreamt my old dream of the sweetness and glory of a maiden's heart. I thought of its spotlessness and of its royal scorn of baseness; and I tell you, William, if I had found it thus I could have been content to worship and not even ask that the girl look at me. For a man, when he has lived as I have lived, can feel towards anything more perfect than himself a quite wonderful kind of humility; I know that all the trouble with my helpless struggling is that I must be everything to myself, and cannot find anything to love, and so be at peace. That was the way I felt when I saw this Miss Davis, all that agitation and all that yearning; and was it not enough to make a man mock at himself, to learn the real truth? I was glad that it did not happen to me when I was young and dependent upon things about me; is it not easy to imagine how a young man might make such a woman the dream of his life, how he might lay all his prayer at her feet, and how, when he learned of her fearful baseness, it might make of him a mocking libertine for the rest of his days?"
"You think it baseness?" asked Lieutenant Maynard.
"I tried to persuade myself at first that it must be only blindness; I wondered to myself, 'Can she not see the difference between the life of these people about her and the music and poetry her aunt tells me she loves?' I never waste any of my worry upon the old and hardened of these vulgar and worldly people; it is enough for me to know why the women are dull and full of gossip, and to know how much depth there is in the pride and in the wisdom of the men. But it was very hard for me to give up my dream of the girl's purity; I rememher I thought of Heine's 'Thou art as a flower,' and my heart was full of prayer. I wondered if it might not be possible to tell her that one cannot combine music and a social career, and that one cannot really buy happiness with sin; I thought that perhaps she might be grateful for the warning that in cutting herself off from the great deepening experience of woman she was consigning herself to stagnation and wretchedness from which no money could ever purchase her ransom; I thought that possibly she did not see that this man knew nothing of her preciousness and had no high thoughts about her beauty. That was the way I argued with myself about her innocence, and you may fancy the kind of laughter that came over me at the truth. It is a ghastly thing, William, the utter hardness, the grim and determined worldliness, of this girl. For she knew very well what she was doing, and all the ignorance was on my part. She had no care about anything in the world until that man came in, and the short half hour that I watched them was enough to tell her that her life's happiness was won. But only think of her, William, with all her God-given beauty, allowing herself to be kissed by him! Try to fancy what new kind of fiendishness must lie in her heart! I remember that she is to marry him because he pays her millions, and the word prostitution keeps haunting my memory; when I try to define it, I find that the millions do not alter it in the least. That is a very cruel thought,--a thought that drives away everything but the prayer--and I sit and wonder what fearful punishment the hand of Fate will deal out for such a thing as that, what hatefulness it will stamp upon her for a sign to men. And then because the perfect face still haunts my memory, I have a very Christ-like feeling indeed,--that I could truly die to save that girl from such a horror."
There was another long silence, and then suddenly, Mr. Howard rose from his seat. "William," he said in a different voice, "it is all useless, so why should we talk so? The girl has to live her own life and learn these things for herself. And in the meantime, perhaps I am letting myself be too much moved by her beauty, for there are many people in the world who are not beautiful, but who suffer things they do not deserve to suffer, and who really deserve our sympathy and help."
"I fancy you'd not be much thanked for it in this case," said the other, with a dry laugh.
Mr. Howard stood for some moments in silence, and then turned away to end the conversation. "I fear," he said, "that I have kept you more than I have any right to. Let us go back to the house; it is not very polite to our hostess to stay so long."
"It must be nearly time for my train, anyhow," said the officer, and a moment later the two had passed out of the summer-house and up the path, Lieutenant Maynard carrying Mr. Howard's violin-case in his hand.
The two did not see Helen as they passed her; the reason was that Helen was stretched out upon the ground by the side of the hedge. It was not that she was hiding,--she had no thought of that; it was because she had been struck there by the scathing words that she had heard. Some of them were so bitter that they could only have filled her with rage had she not known that they were true, and had she not been awed by what she had learned of this man's heart. She could feel only terror and fiery shame, and the cruel words had beaten her down, first upon her knees, and then upon her face, and they lashed her like whips of flame and tore into her flesh and made her writhe. She dared not cry out, or even sob; she could only dig into the ground with her quivering fingers, and lie there, shuddering in a fearful way. Long after the two men were gone her cruel punishment still continued, for she still seemed to hear his words, seared into her memory with fire as they had been. What Mr. Howard had said had come like a flash of lightning in the darkness to show her actions as they really were; the last fearful sentences which she had heard had set all her being aflame, and the thought of Mr. Harrison's embraces filled her now with a perfect spasm of shame and loathing.
"I sold myself to him for money!" she panted. "Oh, God, for money!"
But then suddenly she raised herself up and stared about her, crying out, half-hysterically, "No, no, it is not true! It is not true! I could never have done it--I should have gone mad!" And a moment later Helen had staggered to her feet. "I must tell him," she gasped. "He must not think so of me!"
Mr. Howard had come to her as a vision from a higher world, making all that she had known and admired seem hideous and base; and her one thought just then was of him. "He will still scorn me," she thought, "but I must tell him I really did suffer." And heedless of the fact that her hair was loose about her shoulders and her dress wet with the dew of the grass, the girl ran swiftly up the lawn towards the house, whispering again and again, "I must tell him!"
It was only a minute more before she was near the piazza, and could see the people upon it as they stood in the lighted doorway. Mr. Howard was one of them, and Helen would have rushed blindly up to speak to him, had it not been that another thought came to her to stop her.
"Suppose he should know of Arthur!" she muttered, clenching her hands until the nails cut her flesh. "Oh, what would he think then? And what could I tell him?" And she shrank back into the darkness, like a black and guilty thing. She crept around the side of the house and entered by another door, stealing into one of the darkened parlors, where she flung herself down upon a sofa and lay trembling before that new terror. When a few minutes had passed and she heard a carriage outside, she sprang up wildly, with the thought that he might be going. She had run half way to the door before she recollected that the carriage must be for the lieutenant, and then she stopped and stood still in the darkness, twisting her hands together nervously and asking herself what she could do.
It occurred to her that she could look down the piazza from the window of the room, and so she went swiftly to it. The officer was just descending to the carriage, Mr. Roberts with him, and her aunt and Mr. Howard standing at the top of the steps, the latter's figure clearly outlined in the moonlight. Helen's heart was so full of despair and yearning just then that she could have rushed out and flung herself at his feet, had he been alone; but she felt a new kind of shrinking from her aunt. She stood hesitating, therefore, muttering to herself, "I must let him know about it somehow, and he will tell me what to do. Oh, I MUST! And I must tell him now, before it is too late!"
She stood by the window, panting and almost choking with her emotion, kneading her hands one upon the other in frenzied agitation; and then she heard Mr. Howard say to her aunt, "I shall have to ask you to excuse me now, for I must not forget that I am an invalid." And Helen clutched her burning temples, seeing him turn to enter the house, and seeing that her chance was going. She glanced around her, almost desperate, and then suddenly her heart gave a great leap, for just beside her was something that had brought one resource to her mind. She had seen the piano in the dim light, and had thought suddenly of the song that Mr. Howard had mentioned.
"He will remember!" she thought swiftly, as she ran to the instrument and sat down before it. With a strength born of her desperation she mastered the quivering of her hands, and catching her breath, began in a weak and trembling voice the melody of Rubenstein:
"Thou art as a flower, So pure and fair thou art; I gaze on thee, and sorrow Doth steal into my heart.Helen did not know how she was singing, she thought only of telling her yearning and her pain; she was so choked with emotion that she could scarcely utter a sound at all, and the song must have startled those who heard it. It was laden with all the tears that had been gathering in Helen's heart for days.
"I would lay my hands upon thee, Upon thy snowy brow, And pray that God might keep thee So pure and fair as now."
She did not finish the song; she was thinking, "Will he understand?" She stopped suddenly as she saw a shadow upon the porch outside, telling her that Mr Howard had come nearer. There was a minute or so of breathless suspense and then, as the shadow began to draw slowly backwards, Helen clenched her hands convulsively, whispering to herself, "He will think it was only an accident! Oh, what can I do?"
There are some people all of whose emotions take the form of music; there came into Helen's mind at that instant a melody that was the very soul of her agitation and her longing--MacDowell's "To a Water Lily;" the girl thought of what Mr. Howard had said about the feeling that comes to suffering mortals at the sight of something perfect and serene, and she began playing the little piece, very softly, and with trembling hands.
It is quite wonderful music; to Helen with her heart full of grief and despair, the chords that floated so cold and white and high were almost too much to be borne. She played desperately on, however, because she saw that Mr. Howard had stopped again, and she did not believe that he could fail to understand that music.
So she continued until she came to the pleading song of the swan. The music is written to a poem of Geibel's which tells of the snow-white lily, and of the bird which wonders at its beauty; afterwards, because there is nothing in all nature more cold and unapproachable than a water-lily, and because one might sing to it all day and never fancy that it heard him, the first melody rises again, as keen and as high as ever, and one knows that his yearning is in vain, and that there is nothing for him but his old despair. When Helen came to that she could go no farther, for her wretchedness had been heaping itself up, and her heart was bursting. Her fingers gave way as she struck the keys, and she sank down and hid her face in her arms, and broke into wild and passionate sobbing. She was almost choking with her pent-up emotions, so shaken that she was no longer conscious of what went on about her. She did not hear Mr. Howard's voice, as he entered, and she did not even hear the frightened exclamations of her aunt, until the latter had flung her arms about her. Then she sprang up and tore herself loose by main force, rushing upstairs and locking herself in her own room, where she flung herself down upon the bed and wept until she could weep no more, in the meantime not even hearing her aunt's voice from the hallway, and altogether unconscious of the flight of time.
When she sat up and brushed away her tangled hair and gazed about her, everything in the house was silent. She herself was exhausted, but she rose, and after pacing up and down the room a few minutes, seated herself at the writing desk, and in spite of her trembling fingers, wrote a short note to Mr. Gerald Harrison; then with a deep breath of relief, she rose, and going to the window knelt down in front of it and gazed out.
The moon was high in the sky by that time, and the landscape about her was flooded with its light. Everything was so calm and still that the girl held her breath as she watched it; but suddenly she gave a start, for she heard the sound of a violin again, so very faint that she at first thought she was deluding herself. As she listened, however, she heard it more plainly, and then she realized in a flash that Mr. Howard must have heard her long-continued sobbing, and that he was playing something for her. It was Schumann's "Traumerei;" and as the girl knelt there her soul was borne away upon the wings of that heavenly melody, and there welled up in her heart a new and very different emotion from any that she had ever known before; it was born, half of the music, and half of the calm and the stillness of the night,--that wonderful peace which may come to mortals either in victory or defeat, when they give up their weakness and their fear, and become aware of the Infinite Presence. When the melody had died away, and Helen rose, there was a new light in her eyes, and a new beauty upon her countenance, and she knew that her soul was right at last.