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´╗┐Title: Unlucky - A Fragment of a Girl's Life
Author: Austin, Caroline
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Unlucky - A Fragment of a Girl's Life" ***

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                               Unlucky

                     A Fragment of a Girl's Life

                          BY CAROLINE AUSTIN

Author of "Cousin Geoffrey and I," "Hugh Herbert's Inheritance,"
"Dorothy's Dilemma," &c.


    BLACKIE & SON LIMITED

    LONDON GLASGOW DUBLIN BOMBAY



[Illustration: CHRIS IS BROUGHT BACK BY HIS FRIEND THE SERGEANT]



CONTENTS.


I. HELEN'S STEPMOTHER

II. COUSIN MARY

III. HELEN'S ESCAPADE

IV. STRANGERS YET

V. LONGFORD GRANGE

VI. HAROLD

VII. "IF I HAD BUT LOVED HER"



UNLUCKY:

A FRAGMENT OF A GIRL'S LIFE.



CHAPTER I.

HELEN'S STEPMOTHER.


It must be allowed that Mrs. Desmond, with the best dispositions in the
world towards children in general and her most perplexing little
stepdaughter Helen in particular, was not very happy in her method of
dealing with young people. Brought up herself by two maiden aunts on the
old-fashioned repressive system, from which she had never consciously
suffered, the children of to-day, with their eager, uncontrolled
impulses, their passionate likes and dislikes, often fostered by their
elders, and their too early developed individualities, were simply a
painful enigma to her. That the fault lay in their training rather than
in the young people themselves Mrs. Desmond was free to confess, and,
during the long tranquil years of her maiden life, having never once
been called upon to face the child-problem seriously, she had contented
herself with gently regretting the lax discipline prevalent amongst the
rising generation, and with wondering mildly, and not without a certain
sense of quiet self-satisfaction, what would happen to the human race,
when, in course of time, all the properly brought-up people were
gathered to their fathers.

All this was changed, however, when this lady, spending a quiet summer
at a Swiss hotel, met Colonel Desmond, who had just returned from India,
and who was trying to restore his broken health at the same tranquil
spot. Colonel Desmond was attracted by the lady's calm, sweet face, and
before long he had told her his story, how he had lost his wife just
thirteen years ago, and how she had left him with one little girl,
Helen, for whose sake principally he had returned from India, and from
whom he was now parted for the first time. He found his listener
singularly sympathetic, and not at all disposed to be impatient over his
long tale of doubts and difficulties, chiefly concerning Helen, round
whom nearly all her father's thoughts centred at this period. The end of
this pleasant friendship may be guessed. Colonel Desmond's liking for
his new friend quickly changed to something deeper, to which she
responded. After that they soon came to a mutual understanding, and it
came about so quickly, and yet so naturally, that their fellow-guests at
the hotel were more fluttered than those chiefly concerned when, one
fine morning, this middle-aged couple were quietly married at the little
English church, and then as quietly went away together. This happened a
few months before our story opens. Upon the intervening time it is
needless to dwell. Helen's feelings may be better imagined than
described when, one day, without a word of warning, her father walked
into the drawing-room of the pleasant, unruly household where she was
temporarily located, and where she was, at that particular moment,
engaged in teaching some untidy-looking children to sit monkey-wise upon
the ground like her ayah, and, rather hastily unclasping the clinging
arms which his little daughter had flung round his neck, he presented to
her the gentle-looking lady who stood by his side as her new mother. A
stormy scene had ensued, during which Helen certainly behaved
abominably, stamping her feet and using some very strong language,
luckily expressed in Hindustani, of which tongue Mrs. Desmond was
blissfully ignorant. But she witnessed the passion, she recognized the
undutiful conduct, and her heart sank within her at the prospect that
opened before her. This was by no means the ideal little daughter over
whom her gentle heart had yearned, and to whom she had meant to perform
a true mother's part. As she looked and listened her feelings hardened,
as the feelings of seemingly gentle people will harden sometimes, and
she told herself that this was a child who could not be won, but who
might be disciplined.

This was Mrs. Desmond's first mistake. Unfortunately Helen's bad
behaviour at subsequent interviews only served to confirm her
stepmother's earliest impressions. Beneath her surface amiability Mrs.
Desmond possessed a considerable spirit of obstinate determination, and,
if taken the wrong way, she was not an easy person to manage. She now
determined, rightly or wrongly, that her stepdaughter's rebellious
temper must be conquered, and conquered with the only weapons that she
herself understood how to use. Accordingly when, a few weeks after her
first introduction to her father's wife, Helen came to the dull house in
Bloomsbury Square that Mrs. Desmond had inherited from her aunts, and
where she and her husband had fixed their abode until their future plans
were matured, the wayward girl found herself in a new and hitherto
undreamt-of atmosphere. The surprise caused by her novel surroundings
was so great that at first it almost took away her breath and left her
passive. That she, Helen, who had never learned anything save in the
most desultory fashion, upon whose caprices almost all her father's
arrangements had depended, and who had recognized no authority save that
of her own will, should be suddenly subjected to a routine that would
have been galling even to carefully brought-up children, must have
seemed to the poor child a cruel fate indeed. Every hour was mapped out
for her, every action was to be performed at its appointed time. Mrs.
Desmond had recalled, with singular accuracy, the memories of her own
school-room days, and upon these Helen's were to be modelled
henceforward. From seven to eight o'clock she was to practise. At eight
she breakfasted upon the orthodox bread and milk or porridge--both forms
of nourishment being detested by badly brought-up Helen--in company with
Mrs. Desmond's own maid, who had grown gray in her mistress's service.
Breakfast over, her lessons were conned lying on her back, and at nine
o'clock her governess--a forbidding-looking female, not at all of the
modern type, but possessed of exactly the requirements that had been
considered essential in the days of Mrs. Desmond's youth--arrived, and
did not leave her pupil for a moment until the evening, when, dressed in
a prim white frock and sash, Helen was expected to take her place in her
stepmother's drawing-room, where, at a due distance from the fire, and
with a proviso that she was to speak when spoken to, she was allowed to
amuse herself with a book until the gong sounded for her parents'
dinner, when she was supposed to go to bed, with Mrs. Desmond's prim
maid again in attendance to put out the light.

It must not be supposed that Helen, her first surprise over, submitted
tamely to a life so utterly at variance with her former experiences and
so uncongenial to her tastes. On the contrary, she rebelled fiercely,
fairly frightening her composed stepmother with her outbursts of
passion, and distressing her father, who could not bear to see his
little daughter suffer, but who was daily falling more entirely under
his wife's influence, and who began to believe, with her, that nothing
but this sharp discipline could save Helen from the evil results of her
previous bad training.

All his life Colonel Desmond had been completely under the influence of
some one person or another. For the last few years he had been Helen's
most obedient subject. It soon became evident that her place was being
taken by his new wife. Perhaps this was not wonderful. Weak, easy-going,
and somewhat broken in health, Colonel Desmond now found himself, for
the first time, an object of tender solicitude. His tastes were
consulted and his fancies gratified; above all, his wife--pleasant,
low-toned, and agreeable to look upon--was constantly at hand to
minister to his wants--a gracious, restful presence set in pleasant
surroundings--for Mrs. Desmond possessed ample means, and money worries
were, for the first time in the colonel's experience, conspicuous by
their absence. It can scarcely be wondered at, then, that Colonel
Desmond, looking at his wife with her serene untroubled face, and
recognizing her perfect propriety of word and action, felt that he could
not further Helen's interests more truly than by placing her
unreservedly in her stepmother's hands, remembering, too, the wild Irish
blood that she had inherited from her mother, for Helen's mother had
been a wayward child up to her last hour, and had sorely tried the
colonel, notwithstanding the very true love that he had borne her.

Poor Helen! She was the jarring note in this contented, middle-aged
household. A grief to her father, who loved her; a terrible perplexity
to her well-meaning though prejudiced stepmother. Not at all a
terrible-looking little person, although Mrs. Desmond, amongst her most
intimate friends, did occasionally lament her stepdaughter's unfortunate
plainness. It was an interesting little face, with delicate though sharp
features, and large, questioning, restless, blue-gray eyes; sad enough
sometimes, but gleaming with fun and mischief on the least provocation.
Helen's rough dark hair and her rather angular figure were Mrs.
Desmond's despair; but the dark hair showed curious red glints when the
sun shone upon it such as would have struck an artist's fancy, and the
angular figure was lithe, and gave promise of graceful development when
the childish angularity should be out-grown.

Just as it needed a trained eye to discern the possibilities of beauty
possessed by Helen, so it required some loving knowledge of young
natures to divine the latent good in her. Resentful, passionate, and
wayward, she was also deeply affectionate, and her passionate outbreaks
were followed by passionate repentance, a repentance that she expressed,
however, only to her father, and, as the months went by, rarely even to
him; for although his manner towards her was always kind and even
loving, she knew, with the unerring instinct of childhood, that his
affection was already to a certain extent alienated from her. She did
not blame him for this. In her loyal little heart he still reigned
supreme, as a being absolutely perfect and noble. It was on her
stepmother's unconscious head that all the vials of Helen's wrath were
poured. More or less cowed into outward submission, and half
broken-spirited by her monotonous life, she hated Mrs. Desmond with a
hatred that bade fair to poison her whole nature. To succeed in visibly
annoying her stepmother, to bring an angry cloud over her calm face, was
a positive pleasure to Helen. Mrs. Desmond had been accustomed to a
well-ordered household, and any domestic disturbance was extremely
annoying to her. Helen soon discovered this, and although she was
supposed not to speak to any member of the household, with the exception
of the maid, she delighted in surreptitious visits to the kitchen, and
in setting the servants by the ears. Then, again, noises of any kind
were Mrs. Desmond's abhorrence. Helen would purposely bang doors, tap
with her feet on the floor, even scrape a knife on her plate at
luncheon, and feel more than repaid for the sharp reproof which she drew
upon herself by watching her stepmother's agonized expression whilst the
torture was in progress. That these things were done purposely Mrs.
Desmond did not guess, any more than she imagined that the passionate
manifestations of affection for her father in which Helen occasionally
indulged, were evidences of real love.

As a fact, there was something antagonistic between Mrs. Desmond's
rather cold nature and Helen's ardent disposition. Only love and
patience could have knit these two together. Mrs. Desmond's theory that
a young girl should be treated as an irresponsible being, and forced
into the same mould that had successfully moulded former generations if
she was to turn out a "nice" woman, was fatal in this instance. The
same want of comprehension of the meaning of real education overshadowed
Helen's studies. Although, in the orthodox sense of the word, Helen's
education had been sadly neglected, she was by no means ignorant. She
had seen and observed much; had read, and read intelligently, books that
most girls of her age would unhesitatingly pronounce "dry;" while for
music she had a genuine talent. This last gift, however, did not help
her much under the system of tuition adopted for her. Ordered, for
instance, to practise her scales for an hour each day, without receiving
any explanation as to the usefulness of such practice, the girl
naturally regarded scale-playing as a fresh device for annoying her.
Consequently her playing during her early morning practice soon became
one of Mrs. Desmond's chief tortures, for each jarring note penetrated
through the thin partitions of a London house, and, reaching that
unhappy lady's ears, robbed her of her comfortable morning nap. Far too
conscientious to put an end to the nuisance for consciously selfish
motives, and too lacking in musical taste herself to discern Helen's
real talent, she suffered as silently as she could; not so silently,
however, but that Helen perceived the annoyance which she caused, and
which she took care should continue unabated. But here, as in so many
other instances, poor Helen's weapons were turned against herself.
Being taken by her father to an afternoon concert, an impromptu pleasure
indulged in during a blissful day when her stepmother was away, she was
seized with a vehement desire to learn to play the violin. Her father,
who fancied that his little girl had been looking pale lately, and who
was pleased with the prospect of giving her so innocent a pleasure,
consented, and quite after the manner of old times, the concert over,
they went off together and purchased a violin, which Helen insisted on
carrying home herself.

The afternoon had been so delightful, and had sped so quickly, that they
had both forgotten the time, and that Mrs. Desmond was to return home at
six o'clock. It was nearly seven when their cab brought them to their
own door.

"Yes, Mrs. Desmond had returned an hour ago and was in the
drawing-room," the servant said in answer to the colonel's rather
nervous questioning. A cloud fell upon Helen as she entered the warm,
well-lighted hall; but she clasped her violin tightly and followed her
father upstairs.

Mrs. Desmond rose from a low chair as her husband entered the
drawing-room. She was dressed in a pretty tea-gown, that well became her
tall, slight figure. Soft lace was arranged on her head, and the shaded
red light played on her diamond rings. She looked the very embodiment of
delicately-nurtured, serene, English womanhood, and so the colonel
thought as his eyes fell upon her. "What has kept you? I have been
anxious about you," she said, addressing him in a gently-reproachful
voice. "You must be cold and tired. Come and sit by the fire, and I will
ring for tea."

"My dear," returned her husband, coming forward and kissing her, "how
glad I am to see you back! The house seems like home again. As for tea,
the truth is, Helen and I--well, we have been having a little fun on our
own account. Come here, Helen, and tell your mother what we have been
doing. We sent Miss Walker about her business, didn't we? And then--."

The colonel paused, and Mrs. Desmond then perceived Helen standing
half-timidly, half-defiantly near the door.

"You there, Helen!" she said coldly. "How often am I to tell you that I
will not have you come into the drawing-room with your walking clothes
on! Go and take them off at once. When I was a child--."

"It is really my fault this time, wife," put in the colonel, who dreaded
a scene with Helen, and who had, besides, begun to grow a little weary
of his wife's reminiscences of her childhood.

"Nonsense!" returned Mrs. Desmond with quite unusual asperity. "Helen
knows my rules. She is quite old enough to understand that her duty is
to conform to them, and stay!"--as Helen was turning away
abruptly--"don't go while I am speaking. Have you learned your lessons
for to-morrow?"

"No."

"Then ask Martha to put a lamp in the school-room, and set to work at
once. We shall not expect to see you this evening."

"I won't set to work at once--I won't, I won't, I won't," muttered Helen
under her breath. Her passion was rising; but for her father's sake, her
father who had been so good to her, and who she dimly understood was
responsible for her lapse from duty that afternoon, she strove to
control herself. Knowing that her only chance was in escape, she made a
dash at the door; but in so doing the top of her violin came into
contact with a small china-laden table, and a valuable Dresden figure
fell to the ground with a crash.

Mrs. Desmond, fairly roused from her wonted calm, rushed forward,
uttering a low cry. Her china was very dear to her. She suffered no one
but herself to touch it, and it was her boast that each piece had in her
keeping remained as intact as it had been in her grandmother's time.

"Oh, Helen!" she cried, "what have you done? My poor little shepherd is
broken. You might as well have broken the shepherdess too. The pair is
spoilt--utterly spoilt!"

"Perhaps it can be mended," suggested the kind-hearted colonel, coming
forward. He was really touched by his wife's distress, and also not a
little uneasy about Helen's share in the disaster.

"Mended!" repeated Mrs. Desmond with rising irritation. "Do you suppose
that I would have a piece of _mended_ china in my drawing-room? No, the
mischief is irreparable--irreparable."

As she spoke she gathered up the broken fragments tenderly, while a tear
fell upon her white hand.

"Not irreparable, surely, my dear," persisted the colonel with
characteristic want of tact. "I have seen plenty of figures like these
in old china shops. To-morrow, first thing, Helen shall make amends for
her carelessness by--"

"Ah, Helen!" interrupted Mrs. Desmond, who had regarded the first part
of the colonel's sentence as a confession of ignorance too gross for
argument, but who was recalled by the mention of Helen's name to the
enormity of the girl's offence. "Helen--"

There was a moment's pause. Mrs. Desmond was half-astonished at the
bitterness of her own feelings, and felt the necessity of controlling
herself. She looked up and saw Helen watching her from the open doorway
with an expression of scarcely veiled triumph. It was the last straw. If
the girl's face had expressed even fear or shrinking, Mrs. Desmond's
better nature would have been touched; but there was something of
insolence in her stepdaughter's defiant attitude that exasperated the
usually self-controlled woman.

"Helen," she said, and her voice was hard, "you have been exceedingly
clumsy: a clumsy woman is intolerable. I object to harsh measures, but
something must be done to make you more careful in future. For the
present, go to your own room and remain--. What is that you are
carrying?" she cried with a sudden change of voice, catching sight of
the violin which Helen held behind her.

The faintest expression of anxiety flitted over Helen's face, but she
made no answer.

"Show it to me at once. How dare you bring parcels into the
drawing-room?"

"I am going to take it away now," returned the girl insolently without
moving, for an evil spirit seemed to possess her, and she was absolutely
gloating over her stepmother's evident discomfiture.

"I insist upon seeing it," went on Mrs. Desmond; while the colonel,
murmuring "Helen" in a tone of remonstrance, walked over to the
fireplace.

"You can see it, and hear it too!" cried Helen desperately, her passion
blazing out at her stepmother's authoritative tone; and as she spoke she
placed the violin on her shoulder, and with the bow drew a long
discordant wail from its strings.

Mrs. Desmond started forward, but recovering herself by a violent effort
she stopped and put her hands to her ears. Helen dropped her right hand
by her side, with the other still holding the violin in position, and
regarded her stepmother with a flushed, triumphant face.

"Go to your room," said the latter at last in accents of such bitterness
that even her husband felt uncomfortable. "Go to your room and to bed.
To-morrow I will see you. I do not wish to inflict any punishment upon
you in anger."

"Punishment indeed!" cried Helen, whose blood was up. "I have done
nothing to deserve punishment. My father gave me this violin. You cannot
take it from me. It is mine."

"It shall be taken from you. John," turning to her husband, "I appeal to
you. After Helen's disgraceful behaviour you cannot wish her to keep the
present which in your mistaken kindness you appear to have given her."

The colonel sighed, but came forward nervously.

"Helen," he said, "pray do not oppose your mother. You know that she
only desires your good. And really--"

He stopped short, for Helen was regarding him with a curious expression,
and her breath was coming thick and fast.

"Do _you_ want me to give her my violin?" she asked.

"Only for a little time, Helen, to show that you are sorry, and that you
will be more obedient in future."

For a full minute Helen stood clutching her violin and regarding her
father with that same curious expression; then she let the instrument
drop slowly from her shoulder, and seizing it with her right hand, flung
it from her with a furious gesture. It fell at Mrs. Desmond's feet.

[Illustration: HELEN FLINGS THE VIOLIN AT MRS. DESMOND'S FEET]

"Take it," cried the excited girl, "take it. You have robbed me of my
father, now you rob me of that. I hate you."

Not waiting for a reply, she rushed wildly from the room, and a moment
later the sound of a banging door, adding a last torture to Mrs.
Desmond's sorely-tried nerves, informed all whom it might concern that
Helen was safe in her own chamber.

Colonel Desmond sighed deeply and turned away. His wife, always careful
and orderly, stooped and picked up the violin.

"I hope it has not suffered," she said, placing it on a table. "It must
go back to-morrow."

"Don't be hard on the child, Margaret," said the colonel, not noticing
the foregoing remark.

"Am I ever hard on her, John?"

As Mrs. Desmond spoke she crossed the room and reseated herself in her
easy-chair, leaning back wearily and wiping her eyes with her delicate
lace handkerchief.

"No, my dear, of course not," returned the colonel. "But--"

"But what?"

"She needs patience. It is perhaps hard on her--"

"Hard on her! It is hard on me, I think."

"Yes, yes, my dear, I know that. I only mean--"

Colonel Desmond scarcely knew what he meant. His heart was bleeding for
the wounds inflicted by that little termagant upstairs upon this gentle
woman who continued to sit with her handkerchief to her eyes. He was
longing to reconcile them, and yet he was dimly conscious that in his
blundering man fashion he was but setting them farther apart.

"It is hard, I confess," murmured Mrs. Desmond after a pause. "If Helen
were my own child could I care more for her welfare? I sacrifice my
leisure, my inclinations--" her voice broke here, and once more the
handkerchief was applied.

"My dear wife," began the colonel; but she motioned him to be silent.

"You little know what I have to endure from that child," she went on.
"I do not wish you to know. She is your child, and I shall do my duty by
her. But to be blamed by you is more than I can bear."

"I blame you, my dear Margaret! Come, you cannot mean that. Do you think
that I don't feel grateful to you for your patience and for your
goodness to me, to--to us every day. Why, you have only been away
four-and-twenty hours, and the house felt like a wilderness. That was
what drove me out, I think."

The colonel knelt down beside his wife and took her hand. She suffered
herself to be consoled, and presently withdrew her handkerchief from her
eyes and smiled.

"You are foolish to spoil Helen, dear John," she said. "With careful
training I don't despair of making a good woman of her yet. But you must
leave her to me, and her caprices must not be gratified."

"I thought her desire to learn the violin was innocent enough."

"Nonsense, John! you know nothing about children and their training.
Girls were content with the piano in my young days; and I consider the
modern girl's craze for violin playing extremely unfeminine. No; that
violin must go back to-morrow. Helen's notions are far too fantastic
already."

There was a suspicion of returning sharpness in Mrs. Desmond's tone, and
her husband wisely forbore to press the subject further. On his way to
dress for dinner he lingered for a few moments wistfully outside Helen's
closed door. But neither then nor later, when (after Mrs. Desmond had
retired on the plea of a headache, leaving the colonel free to follow
his own devices), he returned, and knocking gently, called Helen, did
any success reward his efforts to bring a crumb of consolation to the
poor child. Judging by her silence that she must have fallen asleep,
Colonel Desmond retired to his smoking-room and comforted himself by
reflecting that Helen had certainly been naughty and probably deserved
whatever punishment might be meted out to her. Then he recalled his
wife's angelic goodness and smiled, thinking that such a woman could not
possibly be very severe. Finally, as he knocked the ashes out of his
pipe before going to bed, he decided that only women could understand
girls, and that Helen would thank him some day for having given her such
a mother. But these comforting reflections did not prevent a wistful
face, not unlike Helen's own, from peering out at him from amongst the
dark shadows on the staircase, dimly lit by his solitary candle, a face
that had looked up into his once and had whispered with failing voice,
"Take care of the child and bring her safe to me." For our
responsibilities are our own, and we cannot safely delegate them even to
persons of angelic goodness.



CHAPTER II.

COUSIN MARY.


"I think that you are wrong, Margaret. Young people must be more or less
the children of their generation."

The speaker was a cousin of Mrs. Desmond's, a certain Miss Macleod, or
Cousin Mary as she was generally called by the younger members of her
acquaintances. Mary Macleod lived in a northern county, and she and Mrs.
Desmond had never been close friends, but circumstances having brought
the former to London for a time, she had accepted her cousin's
invitation to spend a week at Bloomsbury Square.

Cousin Mary was a person to whom all confided their troubles, and
although she had only been in the house an hour or so, Mrs. Desmond was
already launched on her favourite topic, the miseries resulting from the
present pernicious system of bringing up young people. Mrs. Desmond was
rather a self-centred person, and she was quite unconscious that her
remarks were not approving themselves to her listener.

"Really, Mary," she said, glancing up in some surprise at her
companion's tone, "you don't mean to say that you have taken up with
these new-fangled notions about education? A household that exists only
for children is, in my opinion--"

She paused, becoming suddenly aware that Helen had entered the room,
book in hand as usual, and was taking up her accustomed station on a
straight-backed chair situated at a respectful distance from the
fireplace.

"You here, Helen?" she said rather sharply. "I did not hear you come in.
Don't you see my cousin, Miss Macleod? Why don't you come and say 'How
do you do?' to her?"

"I was waiting to be told to," returned the girl, with that indefinable
note of defiance in her voice which grated the more upon her stepmother
that it was impossible to discover in it any tangible cause of offence.

As Helen spoke she came forward with a lagging step and took Miss
Macleod's outstretched hand, murmuring something unintelligible, Mrs.
Desmond watching her stepdaughter with displeased eyes the while. Since
the scene narrated in the last chapter, there had been a sort of armed
neutrality between these two. Helen had submitted to the punishment
inflicted upon her for her behaviour upon that occasion with the worst
possible grace, and no single word of contrition for her fault had
passed her lips. On the contrary, she maintained a sort of sullen
reserve which annoyed even her father, and went far to deprive her of
such consolation as she might have extracted from his secret, if
unspoken, sympathy. As for Mrs. Desmond, her spirit of obstinacy was
aroused, and so far from ascribing her failure to win Helen to any fault
of her own, she clung yet more persistently than ever to her
preconceived ideas, and subjected the girl to still severer discipline.
Whilst acting thus, Mrs. Desmond considered herself the most forgiving
of mortals because she maintained a forbearing though frigid demeanour
towards her wayward stepdaughter. With her husband, indeed, she assumed
a martyr-like air whenever Helen's name was mentioned. This did not
happen often. Mrs. Desmond really loved her husband and had far too much
tact to vex him, or to sound a jarring note in his hearing
unnecessarily. Neither did she set herself designedly to lessen Helen in
her father's affection. It was more by what she left unsaid than by what
she said that she conveyed to the colonel a bad impression of Helen's
disposition, and spoilt the happy, unrestrained intercourse that had
hitherto subsisted between these two.

Such was the position of affairs at the time of Mary Macleod's visit.
That quick-witted lady had guessed it pretty accurately from her
cousin's conversation. Perhaps it interested her, for she watched Helen
keenly from the moment that she became aware of the girl's presence. She
smiled very pleasantly as Helen, in obedience to her stepmother's
command, approached the visitor, and not at all repelled, seemingly, by
the unwilling little hand that was laid in hers, she drew Helen's face
down and kissed it, saying in a warm voice, to which the slight northern
burr gave a homely sound:

"So you are my new cousin. I am a relation, you know--Cousin Mary. But,
bless me, child, how cold your hands are! Come and sit by the fire and I
will warm them."

A smile came upon Helen's face, although she drew back a little proudly.

"I am not cold, thank you," she said, and moved away.

Miss Macleod made no effort to detain her. She understood young people
too well to try to force them into friendliness, and, as I have said,
she had already made a tolerably shrewd guess as to the true state of
the case. Taking up her knitting, she continued her chat with Mrs.
Desmond in spite of the latter's rather constrained replies, for
childless Cousin Mary's passion for young people was well known in her
family, and Mrs. Desmond began to feel fidgety lest her guest might
even temporarily interfere with Helen's training. It was a relief when
the colonel entered the room smiling, happy, and friendly. After a few
words of greeting to his guest he turned to inform his wife of some
rather important news that had arrived from India by that day's mail.
Upon this Miss Macleod put down her knitting and beckoned to Helen,
pointing to a low chair by her side.

"Your book must be very absorbing," she said smilingly as Helen obeyed.

"No, it isn't," returned the girl abruptly. "I think it is the dullest
book I ever read."

"Why don't you put it down then and talk to us?"

"Because," began Helen, with an ominous look in her stepmother's
direction, "because"--but just then that lady, who had been listening to
her husband with one ear and to Helen with the other, broke in:

"What is the dullest book you ever read?"

"This. _Amy Herbert._"

"That is grateful, Helen, seeing the pains I took to get it for you."

"And such a gorgeous-looking book too," put in the colonel, always eager
to make peace.

Helen said nothing, but drew back her chair a little with a grating
sound, while Mrs. Desmond frowned and went on:

"_Amy Herbert_ is a book that has delighted hundreds of children. I can
remember that when I was a girl, I knew every line of it. It is a pity
that you do not lay to heart some of the lessons it teaches. But young
people won't be taught nowadays."

"I think you are a little hard on young people, Margaret," put in Cousin
Mary's pleasant voice. "We grown-up people are influenced by the feelings
of our day. Books that appealed to our grandmothers don't affect us.
Children are subject to the same influences. It is quite possible--"

"I can't see it," interrupted Mrs. Desmond with most unusual vehemence.
"What was good enough for my aunts, for instance, is quite good enough
for me, and always will be, I hope."

"My dear," interposed the colonel mildly, "would you write that note for
me before dinner? It is important not to miss a single post."

Mrs. Desmond sighed gently, but rose with a resigned air to comply with
her husband's request. He followed her to her writing-table, leaving
Cousin Mary and Helen alone.

That notion of Miss Macleod's, that grown-up people and children were
not set wide as the poles asunder, but were close akin to one another,
struck Helen immensely, and made Cousin Mary seem quite an approachable
being in this young girl's eyes, and instinctively she drew closer to
this new relative with a pleasant sensation of confidence.

"I'll tell you what I was doing when you two were talking," she said,
with the sudden burst of friendliness that comes so strangely from a
lonely child. "I was thinking."

"Thinking, Helen! Were your thoughts worth a penny?"

Helen was not to be dealt lightly with. She was very serious.

"I heard what you were saying when I came into the room," she went on.
"And I wondered what you meant when you said that children must belong
to their generation."

Cousin Mary looked grave.

"It would take a long time to explain all that I meant," she said.
"Perhaps we shall have a chance of talking it over before I leave. I
didn't mean that the girls and boys of to-day have any excuse for being
naughty and rebellious. But I sometimes think that as we grown-up people
move about so much, and are tempted to grow restless and impatient, so
the same influences may affect children to a certain extent, and that a
very strict routine may be a little more irksome to them now than it was
to us thirty years ago."

"Oh, it is dreadful!--dreadful!" murmured Helen.

"Nonsense! Not dreadful, only perhaps a little tiresome."

Helen's tone had been tragic, but there was a gleam of fun in Cousin
Mary's eyes as she replied that brought a smile to the girl's face.

"Very tiresome," she said. "I hate lessons."

"They are a little wee bit trying sometimes, I grant. And yet we must
learn them; must go on learning them all our lives."

Cousin Mary's face had grown grave again, and Helen began to think her
the most perplexing person that she had ever met.

"Go on learning!" she repeated. "Grown-up people don't learn lessons."

"Not book lessons exactly, though I think I have learnt more book
lessons even since I have been grown up than I did in the school-room.
But that is a matter of choice. There are certain lessons that we must
learn, because God goes on teaching them to us until we really know
them."

"Oh! What are they?" asked Helen in an awe-struck whisper.

"I think obedience is one," replied Cousin Mary, with that little smile
lurking in her eyes again. "I am dreadfully disobedient sometimes, but I
am always sorry for it afterwards, I think. Perhaps some day I shall
learn to know that my way is not best, and then I sha'n't want to be
disobedient again."

"You disobedient!"

"It is quite true. For instance, I didn't want to come up to town at
this particular time. I very nearly said I wouldn't come. You see, my
doing so interfered with some very pleasant plans that I had made. That
was why I did not like it, although I knew all the time that I ought to
come. Now I begin to be very glad that I did not follow my own way, not
only because I have done my duty, but because I have found a new cousin
whom I mean to like very much."

The expression of Helen's face altered as she listened to her new
friend's words. Her eyes, that had been heavy and downcast, lit up; she
raised her head and threw back her hair with something of her old,
careless gesture.

"I like you very, very much," she said, "although you do say such
strange things. I wish--"

Just then Cousin Mary's ball of wool fell from her lap and rolled away
to some distance. Helen sprang to her feet and rushed to fetch it. At
the same time Mrs. Desmond left her writing-table, and, shivering a
little, rejoined her cousin by the fire. As she did so Helen brushed
past her, holding the recovered ball in her hands. The action was not a
courteous one, and Mrs. Desmond's displeasure was not mitigated by
observing the girl's heightened colour and altered expression.

"You are exceedingly awkward and clumsy," she said, smoothing her laces,
which had been displaced by Helen's rough contact. "I wonder what my
cousin will think of such a little barbarian. You had better say
good-night and go to bed at once. Perhaps that will teach you to be more
careful in future."

Helen's face fell. Accustomed as she was to her stepmother's constant
fault finding, to be reproved in this fashion and sent to bed like a
baby before Cousin Mary stung her into fresh rebellion.

"It is still only a quarter to eight," she said, glancing at the clock.
"Why should I go to bed before my usual hour? I have done nothing wrong.
I couldn't help knocking up against you just now."

"Helen"--and for once the colonel's tone was really stern, for the
insolence of his daughter's tone angered him. "Helen, how dare you speak
in that way to your mother? Go to bed instantly, and don't let me see
you again until you are ready to apologize."

For a moment Helen stood transfixed. Never in all her life had her
father spoken to her so before. Every vestige of colour left her face;
her white lips just moved, but no words came. Then she turned round and
walked quietly out of the room, forgetting even to slam the door behind
her.

"I suppose that we have to thank you for being spared a scene, Mary,"
said Mrs. Desmond as she sank into her chair with a deep sigh.

"I'm afraid that Helen is too much for Margaret," observed the colonel,
addressing his visitor, but looking anxiously at his wife.

"Why don't you send her to a good school then?" asked the former
briskly. "It's a lonely life for her here, poor child!"

"Because, Mary," interposed Mrs. Desmond, "I do not approve of a school
training for girls; and I shall never shirk a duty that I have
undertaken for my dear husband's sake, however painful and wearing it
may be."

The colonel pressed his wife's hand, while Miss Macleod went on:

"And yet in this case a school training might be the best. Probably the
child is too much alone and needs young society."

"Nonsense, Mary! Was not I brought up alone in this very house? Helen
has many more indulgences than I ever had, and yet I was always happy
and contented."

"But I should say, Margaret, that your disposition and Helen's are
totally different. I can remember you a prim little girl sitting up in
your high chair working your sampler or repeating Watt's hymns. And do
you recollect your horror when I once went out of doors while I was
putting on my gloves and afterwards proposed to race round the square?
Ladies never did such things, you said. Now I have a suspicion that
Helen might be very easily induced to race anybody along Regent Street."

The colonel smiled. There was a time when he used to boast of his little
girl's high spirits and untamed ways.

"She has--" he began, but his wife interposed:

"I remember you, Mary, as a regular hoyden," she observed, and was about
to go on when the announcement of dinner put an end to the conversation.

Mrs. Desmond could be a very pleasant companion when she chose, and upon
this occasion she did choose, being anxious not only to obliterate from
her husband's mind the painful impression caused by Helen's conduct, but
also to convince her cousin that her marriage was an entirely happy one.
Dinner was excellent and daintily served. In the evening an old friend
of the colonel's dropped in, and there was plenty of bright talk.
Colonel Desmond seemed profoundly contented, and his wife scarcely less
so. Only Cousin Mary's thoughts wandered sometimes away from the
cheerful voices and the pretty drawing-room, with its bright lights and
fragrant flowers, to a small darkened chamber somewhere overhead, where
she suspected that a forlorn little figure might be tossing restlessly
and a young soul hardening for want of the love that is its right.

"Poor young thing!" thought Cousin Mary, longing in her eager way to run
to the rescue, and yet knowing that she must bide her time if she would
not make bad worse. But, thinking thus, the softness of her cousin's
manner and the ancient endearments that passed between husband and wife
had rather an irritating effect upon her. Once or twice there was a
sharpness in her speech that a little astonished the good colonel.

"I expected from what I heard to find your cousin a charming woman," he
said when he and his wife were alone together. "She has a pleasant
enough face, but rather a sharp tongue, hasn't she?"

"Poor Mary!" laughed Mrs. Desmond softly. "She is a good soul at heart.
A little hard, no doubt, but she has many excellent points."

Next day, although none of the usual noisy tokens of Helen's presence in
the house were lacking, neither she nor her governess appeared at
luncheon. Cousin Mary judged it wiser to ask no questions, but she sat
in the drawing-room long after Mrs. Desmond disappeared to dress for
that evening's dinner-party, hoping to catch a glimpse of the young
culprit. But although she allowed herself only ten minutes for dressing,
and was obliged in consequence to put on her plainest gown in place of
the more elaborate one she had proposed wearing, she caught never a
glimpse of Helen. Just, however, as she was closing her bed-room door
behind her she heard her name called.

"Cousin Mary!"

The voice came in an eager whisper from the landing above.

"Cousin Mary, do just wait one minute."

"I'll wait five if you like, although I'm a wee bit late."

There was a rush down the stairs.

"O!" cried Helen, "please don't speak so loud. The old cat will hear if
you do. The old cat is her maid. She is always trying what she can find
out. The servants--but, O! I didn't come to say this. Look here! I know
there was going to be a dinner party to-night, and I knew that she would
have flowers, and I was determined that you should have some too. So I
ran away from old Walker this afternoon. I gave her such a fright you
should have seen her face. And I bought _these_."

As Helen, breathless and triumphant, finished speaking, she placed a
bunch of lilies of the valley in Cousin Mary's hand.

"My dear child! I scarcely know what to say. O, yes! of course I will
wear them," in answer to a blank look of dismay on Helen's face. "I
thank you, dear, indeed I do. But, O! Helen, why did you do wrong for
me? And, dear child, I have missed you all day."

Helen's face hardened.

"Has she been setting you against me too?"

"Helen, I can't stop now. I promise to wear your flowers and to think of
you all the evening. Will you promise me something?"

"If I can."

"Will you try to put all unkind and ungenerous thoughts out of your head
until I can see you again?"

"I don't know what you mean by ungenerous. Other people--"

There was a step on the stairs. Helen flew away, and Cousin Mary, going
her way down, nearly fell into the arms of Mrs. Desmond's maid.

"I was coming up, miss, to see if I could assist you," said that
individual demurely.

Cousin Mary put her aside rather coldly and proceeded to the
drawing-room, where the guests were already gathered, and where Mrs.
Desmond glanced at her cousin with some displeasure. This was
occasioned not only by the lateness of Miss Macleod's arrival, but by
the plainness of her attire, which, in Mrs. Desmond's opinion, was
emphasized by a great bunch of lilies of the valley pinned carelessly in
the front of her bodice without any attempt at arrangement, and looking,
as that lady afterwards said, as if they had just come from the nearest
greengrocer--a guess that came considerably nearer to the truth than
most guesses do.

Dinner was a long and rather tedious affair. Cousin Mary's neighbours
were not particularly entertaining, and although she tried to exert
herself to talk her thoughts wandered constantly to the lonely child
upstairs. In the drawing-room matters were still worse. Most of the
ladies present were known to each other, and their small gossip sounded
quite meaningless to an utter stranger like Miss Macleod. Mrs. Desmond,
who, to do her justice, was never negligent of her duties as a hostess,
noticed her cousin's abstraction, and tried more than once to draw her
into the conversation, but without much success. When the gentlemen
appeared there was a little very indifferent music, and then the company
dispersed. Cousin Mary was heartily glad to find herself once more in
her own room. But although she had pleaded fatigue in the drawing-room
she seemed in no hurry to get into bed. Replacing her silk dress by a
soft Cashmere gown, she opened her door and listened. Presently she
heard Mrs. Desmond come up the stairs to her own room on the floor
below. Cousin Mary peeped over the banisters and saw that the maid was
in attendance. She waited until she heard the bed-room door close upon
mistress and maid, and then she walked quietly upstairs, smiling to
herself all the time.

Arrived upon the landing, she looked about her, and presently espying a
door standing partly open, and, peeping in, she saw at once she had
reached her goal, for by the faint light that came in through the
uncurtained window she could discern Helen lying in bed and tossing
about restlessly.

"Are you awake, Helen?" asked Cousin Mary softly.

Helen sat up in bed.

"Oh!" she cried, "have you really come to see me? I was afraid to expect
you. And yet--"

"Yet you had a notion that I might come."

As Cousin Mary spoke she closed the door quietly and walked up to
Helen's bed. Then she struck a light and lit a small lamp that she
carried in her hand. After this she made Helen lie down, shook up her
pillow, and covered her up; and then, drawing a chair close up to the
bedside, she sat down herself.

"Are you going to stop for a little while?" asked Helen with glistening
eyes.

"For a little while, yes. Not for long, though; you ought to have been
asleep hours ago."

"How can I go to sleep when I am so--so _dreadfully_ unhappy?" Helen's
eyes that had been glistening a minute ago were filled with tears, and
her voice grew tremulous. "I hate being such a baby," she went on,
dashing away the rebellious tears with an angry hand. "I never let her
see me cry. Only--only, somehow, when any one is very kind like you
are----"

"Silly child!" said Cousin Mary, taking the girl's hand, "don't you know
that you are making your own troubles out of that sore little heart of
yours?"

"My own troubles! You don't understand, or you wouldn't say that. Why
should I do as she tells me? She isn't my mother. My father and I were
happy before she came, and now even father doesn't love me. I met him on
the stairs to-day and he asked me if I was sorry, and just because I
said I wasn't he went on and never spoke another word to me. He didn't
use to want me to be sorry, he wanted me to be happy."

"And yet you weren't always happy then, Helen."

"Oh, yes! I was; at least nearly always."

"Had you no troubles? Did nothing ever go wrong? Were there no tears?"

"Well, of course, sometimes things went wrong. But it was quite, quite
different then."

"You believe that your father loved you then, don't you, Helen?"

"I know he did."

"And yet, loving you as he did, he saw that you must have some better
training than he was able to give you; and he wished to make a happy
home for you. He did his best for you, and you make things very hard for
him. I think he might truly say that his little daughter does not love
him."

"But I do, even now. I would do anything in the world for him."

"You show your affection very curiously, Helen."

Helen was silent, and Cousin Mary went on. "When one loves a person
truly one ceases to think of one's own happiness so much."

"But I can't do anything to make him happy now."

"You could do a very great deal."

"How?"

"By helping to make his home happy, by being respectful and obedient to
your stepmother, and by trying to become what she wishes to see you."

"I never could please her if I tried ever so hard."

"But have you ever tried?"

Helen was again silent.

"I know it wouldn't be quite easy at first, dear. But if you were to say
to yourself when you feel your temper rising, 'It is for my father's
sake,' it would be possible, I think. Love makes so many things easy."

Helen lay very still. There was silence for a few minutes, and then
Cousin Mary spoke again. "You were rude yesterday evening, my child;
your father was quite right to reprove you. You caused him a great deal
of pain. Won't you make amends to him by telling him and your stepmother
that you are sorry?"

Still no reply from Helen, and Cousin Mary was heaving a sigh of
disappointment, when suddenly the bed-clothes were flung violently on
one side, and Helen sprang to her feet.

"I will go at once," she exclaimed. "She--I mean mamma--can't be in bed
yet. I shall be able to go to sleep when I have seen her and kissed my
father. And I suppose, Cousin Mary, that I ought to tell her that I ran
away from Miss Walker to-day. Well, never mind, I will tell it all, and
then I shall start fresh to-morrow. Wherever _can_ my dressing-gown be?"

Cousin Mary had some difficulty in dissuading this impulsive child from
executing her project. Miss Macleod, however, shrewdly suspected that
Mrs. Desmond would decline to receive her stepdaughter's apologies at
that late hour, and that a fresh scene would be the only outcome of such
an injudicious proceeding. Helen, rather crestfallen, at length allowed
herself to be coaxed back into bed again, and then Cousin Mary crept
down to the smoking-room and persuaded the colonel, who was sitting
rather gloomily over his expiring fire, to come upstairs and say
good-night to his repentant daughter. He did not require much
persuasion, and the moonlight shone through the little attic window upon
three very happy faces, as Cousin Mary looked on at the reconciliation
of father and daughter.

"A thousand thanks for looking after my little girl," whispered the
colonel to Mary as they went down-stairs together. "She--she----"

"She has the makings of a fine woman," interposed the latter warmly,
"but you must not repress her too much. Send her away from home. It will
be best, believe me."

"Well, well, we must see," returned the colonel hesitatingly. "I must
talk it over with Margaret. And, by the bye, let us say nothing of what
has taken place to-night until Helen has made her peace. You understand.
Good night, good night!"

So saying, and walking very cautiously, the colonel crept down-stairs
to his own quarters, while Cousin Mary, shrugging her shoulders a little
impatiently, sought her own room.

As for Helen, she was soon asleep and dreaming of dainty feasts in which
she was participating. She had been dreadfully hungry, for she had
indignantly refused to eat the only food that had been brought to her in
her disgrace. In the sincerity of her penitence, however, she resolved
to bear the pangs of hunger in dignified silence, and if her
dream-feasts were not very satisfying they answered their purpose, for
the hours flew by and she never stirred until the morning.



CHAPTER III.

HELEN'S ESCAPADE.


Helen was standing in the hall listening to the retreating wheels of the
cab that bore Cousin Mary away, and trying hard to keep back her tears.
It was the late afternoon of an early spring day. Spring, as is its
custom with us, had come suddenly; the air was soft and balmy, and the
open hall door revealed a vista of delicate green that had fallen like a
cloud upon the gaunt trees that filled the grimy London square. Even
the servant lingered at the open door, closing it at last reluctantly as
though loth to shut out the warm air and pleasant prospect.

It was just such a day as stirs the blood of even old people, while it
sets young hearts beating, and conjures up before youthful eyes all
sorts of pleasant visions. To Helen, accustomed for so many years to a
cloudless eastern sky, the sunshine, although it brought her renewed
life, brought also vague indefinable longings. London with its endless
streets and squares, its never-ending succession of human beings, its
saddening sights and sounds, seemed to stifle her. She longed, scarcely
knowing what it was for which she longed, for the green country, for
freedom, for space. To Cousin Mary it had been possible to speak of
these and many other things. Cousin Mary gone--gone too holding out only
the vaguest promises of another meeting, and with no word at all about
claiming that visit from Helen of which a good deal had been said in the
early stages of their friendship, the girl, suddenly thrown back upon
herself, felt, with the exaggerated feelings of youth, as though she
were deserted by everybody. It was impossible that she could guess how
hard Cousin Mary had tried to secure that visit from Helen about which
she had, rather incautiously perhaps, spoken to her young favourite. For
as the days went on, and Miss Macleod's stay had lengthened out beyond
her original intention, her interest in Helen had increased, and had
deepened into real affection. Beneath Cousin Mary's influence all the
best part of Helen's nature came out. And, indeed, her deep
affectionateness, her generous impulses, her quick repentances for
wrong-doing, her power of receiving good impressions, all combined to
make Helen a very fascinating little person to one who took the trouble
to understand her disposition. That there was another side to Helen's
character Miss Macleod knew. Such intense natures ever have their
reverse side. She had her bad impulses as well as her good ones; and a
fierce temper that it would need many years of patient effort to bring
under control. There was a spice of recklessness in Helen, too, and an
impatience of restraint. Hers was a nature that might harden and develop
terrible possibilities for evil under adverse circumstances. All this
Cousin Mary saw with painful distinctness as she watched the girl with
ever-increasing interest.

Accustomed as Mrs. Desmond declared she was to her cousin's vagaries,
this last fancy of Miss Macleod's rather astonished that lady. That
Helen should prefer a stranger to herself she regarded as merely another
proof of her stepdaughter's perversity. But what Mary Macleod could see
in the girl, and why she should want to carry off such an uninteresting
child on a long visit, fairly puzzled Mrs. Desmond. It was not only
perplexing, but extremely provoking, when it became evident that Miss
Macleod would not accept a polite excuse, but kept returning to the
charge, putting it into the colonel's head that Helen looked pale and
needed change.

"Perhaps after all, my dear, it might be well to accept your cousin's
kind offer," he suggested when Cousin Mary, with most unusual
persistency, made a final attempt to carry her point upon the last
evening of her stay in town.

Mrs. Desmond's thin lips tightened themselves a little, but she did not
reply immediately. She rose from her chair and crossed the room to where
her husband was sitting and laid her hand on his. "John," she said,
"didn't I promise you to do my best for your child?"

"Yes, my love, and I am sure--"

"Have I kept my word so far?"

"Of course, of course, my dear; but Helen is tiresome, no doubt. I only
thought that perhaps a little change--"

"That is enough, John. I only want to be sure that you trust me to be
the best--to be the best judge of what is for your child's--"

A little sob broke Mrs. Desmond's voice, and the last part of her speech
was inaudible. But she had completely conquered. Colonel Desmond had no
weapon for use against a woman's tears, and in spite of his promises to
support Mary Macleod, given to her in a private interview, during which
she had spoken pretty plainly, his silence gave consent to all that his
wife had to say when she had recovered herself sufficiently to decline
the obnoxious proposal in terms that left no further discussion of the
matter possible. And now Cousin Mary was gone, and the colonel, lying on
the drawing-room sofa prostrate with a bad headache, was conscious of
some qualms of conscience on Helen's account, not unmixed with feelings
of relief at the departure of this keen-eyed guest.

"Your cousin is a very blunt woman," he said in rather a fretful tone to
his wife, who was sitting beside him. "It is strange how well she got on
with Helen. She seemed to like the child."

"Oh! it was merely a caprice and a spirit of opposition. Mary was always
unlike other people," returned Mrs. Desmond.

"I don't know why you should say that," went on the colonel, still
fretful. "People used to be very fond of Helen in India, and she has
been very well-behaved lately, hasn't she?"

Mrs. Desmond was nettled by her husband's tone and forgot her usual
prudence.

"I don't know what you call well-behaved," she said. "To me she seems
to grow more trying every day. Mary has made her simply insufferable. I
spare neither trouble nor expense, and yet--"

"Really, Margaret," broke in the colonel, "do spare me any more
complaints. If you want to be rid of the child, send her to your cousin.
She begged hard enough to be allowed to have her. Why on earth you
refused I can't think."

"Cousin Mary asked me and you--refused." The white face coming out of
gathering twilight shadows, and the tragic tones were Helen's.

Poor Helen! Forgotten by everybody--her governess had left her earlier
than usual in the day--she had been sitting alone in her little
down-stairs school-room, thinking over all that she had learnt from
Cousin Mary. She had been forming the most heroic resolves about her
future conduct. Never, never would she purposely annoy her stepmother
again. She would be patient, she would bear reproof meekly. And she
would remember that great Father whose presence was such a reality to
Cousin Mary, and who was training her not in anger but in love. As for
her dear earthly father, Helen smiled as she thought of him, and
recalled the days when he was always patient with her wayward fits. Then
the gathering twilight made her feel lonely, and she remembered that he
was ill upstairs. She would go to him, she thought, and, if by any
happy chance she found him alone, she would tell him of her sorrow for
the past and of her good resolves for the future. And if Mrs. Desmond
was there? Well, there could be no harm in creeping in very gently and
asking him how he felt, giving him a kiss, perhaps, and going away
again.

"I must be very quiet, and oh! I hope I shan't knock up against
anything," she said to herself as she went upstairs, speaking
half-audibly for company, as it were, and to keep up her spirits, for
the house seemed so still and quiet. The drawing-room door stood partly
open, but a screen concealed the upper part of the room, where the
colonel's sofa stood, from view. No one heard Helen enter, and although
she caught a murmur of voices she was half-way across the room when her
father's last remark arrested her attention.

I suppose it is a fact that it is in our most exalted moods we are most
liable to fall. Her father's words stung Helen to the quick, and changed
the whole current of her thoughts. In a twinkling all her good
resolutions vanished. While she had been determining to submit, to be
good, they, her father and stepmother, were discussing her, wishing to
be rid of her, owning her a burden. And yet, just for the sake of
tormenting her, of keeping her in bondage, they had refused her to
Cousin Mary. Oh, it was cruel, cruel!

"How could you do it? how could you?" she cried, her voice breaking into
a passionate sob. "Don't you know that I hate being here; yes, _hate_ it
quite as much as you hate having me. And Cousin Mary is good. I am not
bad when I am with her. I--"

"Helen," broke in Mrs. Desmond, while the colonel moaned and put his
hand to his head, "don't you see your father is ill? Go away instantly.
If you have learnt from Miss Macleod to listen at doors I must write and
beg her never to enter my house again. I did not know that you were
deceitful in addition to your other faults. Go at once. Don't speak
again."

"Father," began Helen; but he shook his head impatiently and motioned
her away. For a moment she looked at them both defiantly, then, like one
possessed, she scattered some books that lay upon a table near her in
all directions.

"John, John!" cried Mrs. Desmond, "you must interfere."

But Helen only laughed.

"You've told me to go. I'm going," she said, and walked away.

Straight down-stairs she walked, singing as she went a snatch of an
Indian native song. In the hall a comforter belonging to her father
caught her eye. She picked it up and twisted it round her head and
throat, then opening the hall door she passed out without a moment's
hesitation into the fast-gathering darkness. The door closed heavily
behind her. Upstairs the colonel heard it and sprang to his foot.

"My God!" he cried, "she has kept her word. She has gone. Quick! I must
follow her."

"Nonsense, John!" exclaimed his wife; "lie still. A servant shall go at
once. There is no need for alarm."

As she spoke she laid her hand on his arm, but he shook it off
impatiently.

"Don't dare to detain me," he said sternly. "If any evil happens to that
child I shall never forgive you."

"John, John!" cried Mrs. Desmond, throwing herself on the sofa and
bursting into real tears. "John, listen to me--"

But it was of no avail. Whether the colonel even heard his wife's last
appeal seems doubtful. Without pausing or turning his head, he walked
straight down-stairs and out into the street just as Helen had done
before him.

Darkness was falling fast. The air had turned chilly, with a bite of the
east in it. Fresh from the warm drawing-room, Colonel Desmond shivered
as he looked round in every direction, trying in vain to discover some
trace of the fugitive. But to all appearance she had vanished, and the
colonel, his alarm increasing every moment, as the passers-by whom he
interrogated merely shook their heads in answer to his excited questions
as to whether they had noticed a little girl without hat or bonnet going
by, was forced to enlist a policeman to aid him in his search.

A weary search it was, lasting for many hours. Helen, after leaving the
house, had walked steadily on, neither considering nor caring which way
she took. Before long she reached a labyrinth of small streets, where
there were few passers-by, and these chiefly clerks and artisans
hastening home. Scarcely aware of what she was doing, Helen paused every
now and then to watch these home-goers run eagerly up the steps of some
small dingy house, the door of which would open as if by magic at its
master's approach, whilst from within came gleams of light and glimpses
of small outstretched hands drawing father in. Such sights brought her a
realization of her own desolation, and she hurried on until at last
physical exhaustion brought her once more to a stand-still. Oh! how
tired and hungry she was! Even a piece of bread would have been welcome.
But, alas! her pocket was empty. She had not the wherewithal even to buy
bread. Then she sat down on a door-step and began to ponder on her
future proceedings. What was she to do? Go back? No; she would never do
that. Find Cousin Mary? But how was the necessary journey to be
accomplished without money? Certainly it might be possible to walk the
distance in two weeks--one week, perhaps. But--here Helen began to
shiver, and she was just trying to wrap her comforter more closely round
her when a light was flashed in her face and she felt her arm grasped.
Looking up, her heart nearly stood still with terror when she saw a
policeman standing beside her.

He looked at her for a minute, whilst she tried to speak, but couldn't.
She felt as if a nightmare was coming true.

"Get up and move on!" he said roughly. "Where do you come from? You
ought to have been at home long ago."

Helen needed no second bidding. Although the policeman kept his hand
upon her arm, and seemed to have some intention of questioning her
further, she released herself quickly and set off running as fast as she
could go. On and on she went, up one street and down another, until once
more exhaustion forced her to stop. It was growing late, and she espied
a dark porch where it struck her that she might pass the night free from
discovery. "In the morning I shall be able to think," she said,
crouching down on the cold stones. Terribly afraid as she was, and cold
and hungry, the idea of returning home never entered Helen's head. She
had said to herself that she would never go back, and she fully meant to
keep her word. A sort of drowsiness was stealing over her when
approaching footsteps startled her into wakefulness and roused her to
fresh terror. She jumped up and ran down the steps. Two figures were
approaching; one looked like that of the dreaded policeman. Could he be
coming to take her to prison? Once more she turned to fly, but her foot
caught against the curb-stone, and she fell heavily, striking her head
against the ground. The shock stunned her and rendered her unconscious.

When she opened her eyes great was her astonishment to see her father
bending over her, while a policeman with a deeply-concerned face was
looking on, and a cab was drawing up close beside them.

"She'll be all right now, sir," said the policeman. "Let me lift her
into the cab."

"Speak, Helen," cried the colonel, "are you hurt? Oh! my child, if any
harm had come to you!"

"How did you come here, Father?" asked Helen, still frightened and a
little defiant, struggling to her feet.

"I followed you, of course. Did you think I would leave you to wander
off alone? Come home."

Helen shrank back.

"Must I?" she said feebly.

"We have been hard upon you, child, I daresay. I have been thinking, God
knows----"

Her father's tone, almost more than his words, touched the girl's
generous heart.

"It is I who am bad--wicked," she whispered, throwing her arms round his
neck. "Forgive me, dear."

This whispered conversation occupied but a few seconds. Before many
minutes had passed Helen and her father, seated hand in hand, were
driving homewards. The sound of wheels brought Mrs. Desmond to the head
of the stairs. Her face bore signs of genuine emotion, but her
expression hardened when she saw her husband cross the hall leading
Helen, who hung back a little.

"Oh! John," she cried, "I am thankful to see you back safely. Going out
without a coat, too! No one knows the anxiety I have endured."

Colonel Desmond made no reply, but he put his arm round Helen and
half-forced her upstairs.

"Wife," he said, "come here;" and they all three went into the
drawing-room.

"Margaret," he went on, and as he took her unresponsive hand and forced
her to approach Helen, there was an appeal in his voice that must have
touched a less self-absorbed woman, "Margaret, we have all something to
forgive. I think we have been a little hard on the child. I have
realized that through these fearful hours--hours that I shall never
forget. God has given her back to us. Let us take her as from Him, and
let this night be as if it had never been except for the lesson it has
taught us."

"I do not understand heroics," said Mrs. Desmond coldly, moving away a
little. "Helen has behaved shamefully, but if you wish her fault to be
condoned, I have no more to say."

As she spoke she seated herself in her low chair, leaning her head
wearily upon her hand.

"Have you no kind word to say to her, Margaret?" pleaded the colonel,
unwilling to let slip the opportunity of bringing these two together,
and, manlike, making bad worse. "You are sorry, Helen? Tell your mother
so."

"Yes, I am sorry," said Helen. She spoke passively, like a child saying
a lesson.

She was not sullen as her stepmother, smiling ironically, fancied; but
she was cold, tired, and hungry, and the painful emotions of the last
few hours had temporarily exhausted her power of feeling acutely.

But Colonel Desmond heard the words, and was satisfied; the little
by-play was beyond him.

"You hear her, Margaret? Forgive her freely. Think if we had lost her.
Think----"

But the idea of his little girl wandering homeless and unprotected in
our great London through the long night hours, was too much for the
colonel. Ill and over-wrought, he turned white, staggered, and, throwing
himself into the nearest chair, sobbed like a child.

Mrs. Desmond's maid sympathized too deeply with her injured mistress to
find it possible to wait on Helen that night. But Helen's cause having
been adjudicated a rightful one by the kitchen tribunal, where rough
justice is meted out with impartiality as a rule, the poor wornout child
had no lack of practical sympathy and help. She was soon in bed and
asleep, and although she woke up with a curious stiff feeling all over
her, she was by no means seriously the worse for her rash adventure.

She awoke in a very humble frame of mind, thoroughly ashamed of her
flight, and half afraid to venture upon any more good resolutions. She
knew with unerring instinct that her stepmother had not forgiven her,
never would forgive her, and her heart sank as she thought of the sharp
reproofs, the never-ending tasks that would most certainly be her
portion for some time to come, until, perhaps, the memory of this fault
was lost through the commission of another of still greater enormity.

"But I can never do anything so dreadful again, never!" said Helen to
herself as she rose and dressed; "and I must be patient. Perhaps if I am
she will even get to like me a little"--Mrs. Desmond was always
inelegantly _she_ in Helen's thoughts. "I don't know that I should care
for that, though. But for father's sake, dear father! I had no idea he
cared so much. I must never hurt him again."

After this she went down-stairs to practise her scales as usual, only
very quietly and carefully, with no unnecessary faults. Things soon fell
into their old channel, and, as she had anticipated, Helen had a good
many small persecutions to endure, although Mrs. Desmond carefully
avoided any open conflict with her stepdaughter. And in one way things
were never so bad with Helen again after that memorable evening, for she
never again doubted her father's love, and, as Cousin Mary had said,
love makes so many things easy.



CHAPTER IV.

STRANGERS YET.


Spring did not fulfil its early promise that year. Those few warm days
were followed by long weeks of bitter east wind, during which the tender
green leaves grew dark and shrivelled, whilst even the daffodils and
primroses that were hawked about the streets had a pinched, careworn
look, as though their whole existence had been a struggle.

It almost seemed as though the east wind had penetrated inside the
comfortable house in Bloomsbury Square, and had poisoned that tranquil
atmosphere. Helen was no longer the only discordant element there. Mrs.
Desmond, whose calm boast it had always hitherto been that she never
allowed herself to be influenced by weather, suddenly developed
mysterious pains in her head which her doctor declared to be neuralgia.

"The result of worry, I suppose?" suggested Mrs. Desmond with a mental
reference to Helen.

"No doubt, no doubt," he returned indifferently, for he could not
imagine that this patient's worries were very serious ones; "no doubt.
Ladies will worry, you know. You want tone, plenty of strong
nourishment, and a change in the wind, that will soon set you up."

The good doctor sighed a little as he walked down-stairs. It was so easy
to order good nourishment for the mistress of this luxurious house where
there was such absolute certainty that he would be obeyed. There were
other houses distant not five minutes' walk, where the very words were a
mockery. Suddenly he stopped. An idea had occurred to him, and he ran
back.

"By the way," he said, re-opening the drawing-room door, "I am just
going on to see a poor woman who is suffering much in the same way as
yourself. She keeps herself and six children by her needle, poor soul. A
few glasses of port wine--"

"Really, doctor," interrupted Mrs. Desmond, "I am sick of giving. It is
nothing but give, give nowadays. Why do these poor people have so many
children? And, besides, there is always the workhouse. Really I have
nothing to give just now."

The doctor turned away shrugging his shoulders, and nearly tumbled over
Helen, who, on her way down-stairs, had stopped and overheard the
foregoing conversation.

"Hullo! young lady," he cried, "what is the matter with you? Has the
east wind been upsetting you too?"

"Oh, no!" returned Helen, "I only--"

"Only what?"

"_Do_ let me come down into the hall with you."

"Run on, I'm coming."

"Oh!" cried Helen as they reached the hall, drawing the doctor out of
earshot of the waiting servant, "I have been watching for you all the
morning. Do you know that my father is ill?"

"He hasn't sent for me."

"No, because he doesn't want to worry--mamma"--Helen jerked the word
out--"now that she is ill herself. But all the same he is very bad. He
was in the school-room with me last evening, and he nearly fainted. You
must, please, see him."

"Is he in the house now?"

Helen nodded. "I can't stop a moment, Miss Walker is waiting for me.
But"--turning very red and fumbling in her pocket--"father gave me a new
half-crown last evening. It is no good to me; they won't let me spend
it. Please give it to that poor woman."

"That I will, child, and see your father too, and--"

But the doctor's further words were lost. Helen had already disappeared,
and before he had time to discover Colonel Desmond's whereabouts she had
meekly submitted to Miss Walker's sharp reproof for her lengthened
absence, and was deep in the intricacies of a long division sum.

Helen's sharp eyes had not deceived her with regard to her father's
condition. He believed himself that he had never recovered from the
effects of a chill contracted during that sad search for his little
daughter. Anxious to spare her as much as possible, he had said little
of his own sensations at the time. His wife's growing irritability and
her evident suffering had kept him silent later, and he was sitting
alone in his smoking-room planning a flight to a warmer climate
whenever he could summon sufficient energy for the journey, when Dr.
Russell found him and ordered him off to bed at once. Mrs. Desmond,
dozing comfortably on her sofa, was considerably surprised to see the
doctor re-enter the drawing-room a second time unbidden.

"Why, dear me!" she exclaimed anxiously, "I thought that you had gone
long ago. Am I worse? Are you keeping anything from me? Don't be afraid
to tell me my real state. I--"

"Don't be alarmed. It is nothing about yourself that I have to say. It
regards your husband."

"My husband!"

The doctor, a little irritated, had spoken abruptly. Mrs. Desmond was
really frightened. She forgot that she was an invalid, and started up.

"Yes, he is very ill. I have ordered him to go to bed. You had better
send for a trained nurse. In the meanwhile, give me pen and ink and I
will write a prescription, which you had better have made up at once."

"Oh, doctor!" cried Mrs. Desmond, trying to calm herself, "tell me at
once what is the matter. I had no idea he was ill."

"No; but your little girl had. I met her on the stairs and she begged me
to see her father."

"Helen!"

The word escaped from Mrs. Desmond almost involuntarily. She turned very
white, and rose immediately to find pen and ink as desired. "What a
cold, impassive woman!" thought the doctor as he watched her deliberate
movements. How could he guess the storm that was raging in her heart,
the bitterness against Helen that was poisoning her whole nature. And
yet here Helen had been right and she had been wrong. It had seemed
sometimes to her lately in her distorted mind as though her hitherto
tranquil existence were resolving itself into an ignoble struggle
between this insignificant child and herself for Colonel Desmond's
affection, a love that, as husband and father, she failed to understand
could have been given to them both in full measure. Since the night when
she had realized how deep a hold Helen had on her father's affections,
her own feelings towards her husband had suffered a change. Accustomed
for many years, by reason of her wealth and a certain charm which she
possessed, to be treated as a person of the first consideration in her
own circle, she could not brook the idea that a chit like Helen should,
as she chose to phrase it, rival her in her husband's love.

And now Helen's quick eyes had caught what hers had failed to see. Were
they both going to lose him? Was it a judgment?

Not a hint of what was passing in her mind betrayed itself in Mrs.
Desmond's face as she waited until the doctor had finished writing, and
then said:

"You have not yet told me what it is that is the matter with my
husband?"

"My dear madam, it is extremely difficult to say off-hand. He is in a
high state of fever. Looks like rheumatic fever at present. Has he had a
sudden chill?"

"A chill?"

"Yes; a sudden exposure of any kind?"

"Would that account for his illness?"

"I don't know about accounting for it entirely. He is thoroughly out of
health, I believe. Of course a chill might have finished him off."

"He did have a chill, a very severe chill, about a fortnight ago," said
Mrs. Desmond slowly, whilst an almost cruel expression flitted over her
face.

"Well, then, I ought to have been sent for at once," returned the
doctor, taking up his hat and gloves; and adding a few directions and
promising to call again that evening, he departed.

It was quite true. Colonel Desmond was very ill indeed. The weeks went
on; spring, real spring, came at last, but it brought no gladness to the
anxious watchers in Bloomsbury Square, for whose eyes the overshadowing
of the dark angel's wing blotted out the sunshine.

No comfort that love could devise or that money could purchase was
lacking to ease the colonel's sufferings. His nurses were the most
skilful that could be procured, and his wife was scarcely ever absent
from his side, and always eager to anticipate his wishes--all his
wishes, indeed, with one exception. Often in his hours of
unconsciousness Helen's name would pass his lips; often when he lay
conscious, but too weak to speak, his eyes would wander round the room
wistfully as if in search of something. But if Mrs. Desmond understood
his meaning she made no sign of doing so, and Helen's aching heart was
left without even such consolation as she might have derived from this
knowledge. Poor Helen! she had a hard time to go through. Her daily
routine was in no way altered because of this awful sorrow that was
hanging over her. Mrs. Desmond, who had not spoken to her stepdaughter
since the day of the colonel's seizure, had sent the girl a message to
say that lessons and the ordinary school-room routine were to go on as
usual. If Helen desired to testify her sorrow for her part in this
terrible affair, her only possible means of doing so was by the most
absolute obedience. The last part of this message might have been
enigmatical to Helen had she sat down to think it over. As a matter of
fact she did not. She only realized that these days of sorrow and
anxiety were to be lightened by no happiness of service rendered, that
submission to the daily round of irksome lessons was the only token she
could give of her longing desire to help her father. Helen did not
submit to this at once. With passionate words of entreaty on her lips
she went to seek her stepmother. Mrs. Desmond was resting; but something
in her maid's manner warned Helen that entreaty would be useless. After
this the girl had a hard battle with herself. First she determined to
rebel, to force her way into her father's room and refuse to leave his
side. She even remained for a few minutes outside his door, watching for
an opportunity to enter. It opened and some one came out. Helen pressed
forward, but the sound of a low moan arrested her step. That sound
touched her generous heart and changed the current of her thoughts. Her
father was ill and suffering, and to witness a scene between herself and
his wife would distress him, would be bad for him. The very idea made
Helen ashamed of herself. She turned resolutely away, her mind made up.
She would obey. It was all she could do for him. Like a little heroine
this girl kept the pledge she had made to herself. During the long,
weary days that followed not one word of repining escaped her lips. Even
Miss Walker could find nothing to complain of when the imperfect lessons
were relearned so patiently, and the pale face, with its large anxious
eyes, fixed itself so intently upon the allotted tasks. It was only at
night, when everyone excepting those who watched in the sick-room was in
bed and all was still, that Helen, looking like a little ghost, would
steal down-stairs, and stationing herself on the mat outside her
father's room, with her ear pressed against the door, would wait for
hours listening for every sound that could be heard from within. Thus
she would often remain feeling amply rewarded if she did but catch a
sound of her father's voice, until pale dawn and a faint movement
overhead warned her that she must return to her room or risk discovery.

At last there came a day--a languid spring day--when a more than
ordinary sense of gloom seemed to oppress the now cheerless house.
Martha, the maid, said but little in answer to Helen's eager inquiries;
but she sighed incessantly during breakfast, and when the young lady
pushed away her plate of porridge untasted, spoke of chastisements which
might not improbably befall her in the near future. To these remarks
Helen paid but little heed, although she was conscious that Martha's
sighs were re-echoed by the other servants as they went about their work
languidly, making observations to one another in penetrating whispers,
throwing looks of pitiful meaning at Helen herself as, a wan, dejected
little figure, she passed up and down stairs.

All this the girl saw and noted; but she said nothing, dreading,
perhaps, what she might hear. Miss Walker arrived as usual, but even she
seemed in no great hurry to begin lessons; and she made no remarks about
her pupil's imperfectly-mastered tasks, but put the lesson-books down
quickly with a sigh of relief. It was the day for French verbs, too.
"_J'ai, Tu as, Il_--. How does it go?" thought Helen in despair. Was she
going to be stupid just on this day when Miss Walker's forbearance left
her no excuse? She must remember. How does it go? "_J'ai, Tu_--." Worse
and worse. And, yes, that was Dr. Russell's footstep in the hall.

"Oh, Miss Walker! dear Miss Walker! let me go for one moment and speak
to the doctor."

Before Helen knew what she was doing she had burst into tears, and Miss
Walker was actually holding her hand and trying to comfort her, and
telling her that her father was indeed very, very ill, but that there
was no need to despair.

How that day went by Helen, looking back afterwards, never quite knew.
There were no more lessons, and Miss Walker appeared in quite a new
light, never once finding fault with her pupil, but actually trying to
amuse her and to draw her from her sad thoughts. Helen tried to feel
grateful, although not very successfully. In the first place, it was
difficult to dissociate Miss Walker from perpetual fault-finding, and in
the second place, although the girl dreaded being left alone, she was in
no mood to be amused. She was in fact entirely preoccupied with one
question--how to see her father; for see him she must, she told herself.

The day wore on. Miss Walker lingered an hour longer than her accustomed
time, and then, secretly attributing her pupil's irresponsiveness and
reserve to want of feeling, she took her departure. On the door-steps
she met Dr. Russell.

"Well, doctor, what news?" she asked.

The doctor shook his head.

"I cannot tell," he answered. "If his strength holds out twenty-four
hours longer he may pull through yet. But--"

"Poor Mrs. Desmond!" sighed Miss Walker. "How terrible for her if she is
left with that unruly child!"

Dr. Russell looked sharply at his companion, and opened his lips to
speak, but feeling probably in no mood for conversation, he changed his
mind and, lifting his hat, walked into the house.

Helen, meanwhile, had learnt that her stepmother was resting, and,
pacing up and down outside her door, was waiting until she heard Mrs.
Desmond moving within, to enter and make a passionate appeal to be
allowed to see her father. Terrible temptations assailed the poor child
as she walked up and down the landing, all her senses on the alert to
catch every sound. She heard Dr. Russell enter the sick-room and leave
it. Surely he would not refuse her permission to creep in and take one
look at that dear face. The doctor's footsteps died away, and silence
followed. Again she thought how easy it would be to walk in. Once inside
the sick-room the rest would be simple enough, for no one would dare to
make a disturbance there. But Helen had her own code of honour. She had
declared to herself that she would obey her stepmother implicitly during
this sad time, and she would not break her word even to herself.

At last, just as the long spring twilight was fading into darkness,
Helen distinctly heard Mrs. Desmond moving. Impulsive as ever, and
forgetting that people when just aroused from sleep are not particularly
approachable, she flew to the door, at which she knocked vigorously.

"Come in," cried Mrs. Desmond, and Helen entered.

Strange as it may appear these two had never met since the very
commencement of the colonel's illness. This separation had by no means
mitigated the peculiar bitterness of feeling that existed in Mrs.
Desmond's heart against her stepdaughter. In her eyes Helen was the
author of this terrible calamity that threatened her, and the girl's
offence was heightened in her eyes by the fact that she, and not Mrs.
Desmond, had first discovered the colonel's illness. Worn out with the
long strain of nursing, her state of mind with regard to Helen had
become more than ever morbid, and she shrank from even a passing
allusion to her. As for Helen, the efforts she had made over herself
during the past weeks, the sincere sorrow she had experienced for the
pain that her waywardness had caused her father, had softened her whole
nature. She no longer regarded Mrs. Desmond as an antagonist against
whom she was justified in waging perpetual warfare, and she had told
herself that, if her father was restored to her, her stepmother should
have her loyal obedience. Thus determined, and relieved from the daily
fret of Mrs. Desmond's constant rebukes, the bitterness had died out of
Helen's heart; and now something in the elder woman's worn, aged
appearance touched the girl's generous nature. Moved by a sort of pity,
and by a sudden realization of their common anxiety, she forgot even her
desire to see her father in a longing to help this sad-looking lady who,
dressed in a white wrapper scarcely whiter than her face, which bore a
half-frightened, half-bewildered expression, stood in the middle of the
room with upraised hands as though dreading some sudden shock. Her eyes
fell upon Helen. Her hands dropped and her face darkened. There was a
second's silence, while the girl looked appealingly at her stepmother,
her fingers twitching nervously.

"What do you want, Helen?" asked Mrs. Desmond at last, commanding her
voice with difficulty, for not only had the sudden knocking really
alarmed her, but she particularly disliked being found in dishabille.

"I'm so sorry, I do so wish I could help you!" broke from the impulsive
girl.

"Sorry! did you come to tell me this?"

"No, not exactly--but--"

"I am glad of that. Sorrow is shown by acts, not words. I did not send
for you, and you have chosen to break upon the rest I so sorely need, at
a time, too, when--" Mrs. Desmond's voice shook, and once more pity
quenched Helen's rising resentment.

"Oh! you don't know how sorry I am for you," she cried, as, running
forward, she seized her stepmother's hand, and looked imploringly into
her face.

For a moment Mrs. Desmond allowed her hand to remain passively in
Helen's. There was something pleasant after all in the touch of those
warm strong young fingers; something that spoke of warmth, of comfort,
almost of support to this cold-natured woman who was feeling all her
hopes crumbling about her, who was face to face with mortal sorrow and
pain for the first time in her smooth easy life. One gentle
hand-pressure, one caressing movement, and the chasm that divided these
two might have been bridged over. But it was not to be. The remembrance
of Helen's past waywardness, and of the terrible results of the poor
child's foolish escapade, swept over her, obliterating more kindly
feelings. She withdrew her hand coldly, and moved away a few paces.
Helen, thrown back upon herself, felt her better feelings die within
her, and grew half-ashamed of her uncalled-for exhibition of tenderness.

"I only came to ask you to allow me to see my father," she said,
speaking unconsciously in those sullen tones that she had cultivated in
old days, because she knew that they annoyed her stepmother. "I am sorry
if I disturbed you, but I thought I heard you moving before I knocked."

"That I can scarcely believe, Helen," returned Mrs. Desmond, now
completely master of herself. "However, whether you did or not matters
little. As to your father, he is too ill to see anybody."

"He can't be too ill to see me," returned Helen desperately, her wrath
rising at the notion that she, her father's child, should be classed
with "anybody" as though she were a stranger. "I should not disturb
him. When he had fever in India--"

Poor Helen! as usual, she had struck the wrong chord, for Mrs. Desmond
could not endure any allusion to those old Indian days in which she had
had no part.

"Spare me these discussions, Helen," she interrupted sharply. "It is all
very well to profess so much affection for your father. Remember that
but for you he would not be lying as he is now."

"But for me!"

"Yes. Dr. Russell says that he contracted his illness that evening when,
distressed as he was by your disgraceful behaviour, he followed you and
brought you home."

"Dr. Russell says so?"

"Yes."

"And if--if--"

"If we lose him, do you mean? In that case, Helen, you will need no
words of mine, I should think, to point out the terrible consequences of
giving way to temper."

To do Mrs. Desmond justice, she scarcely realized the full meaning of
her words. She was not deliberately cruel, but even upon an occasion
such as this she could not forget her creed with regard to young people,
or let slip the opportunity of pointing a moral. Helen heard her, but
said nothing. The girl stood quite still, her hands clasped, her face
white and rigid, and her eyes unnaturally distended. She was trying to
think; trying to take in the awful fact that it was her deed that had
brought this illness upon her father. Was it true, or was she dreaming?
she asked herself as all sorts of curious fancies, fancies quite
distinct from this absorbing sorrow, rushed through her brain, and the
pattern of the wallpaper took fantastic shapes, and the china ornaments
on the chimney-piece stood out with curious distinctness, whilst a small
ivory figure on the dressing-table seemed suddenly to take life and to
force itself upon her attention.

Most people have experienced, at one time or another, the curious power
that inanimate objects acquire over a brain half-paralysed by some
sudden shock. To Helen the sensation was entirely a new one, and her
voice sounded strange and far-away in her own ears when, hearing
Martha's step on the landing outside, she said:

"If my father asks for me will you send for me?"

"Yes," returned Mrs. Desmond more gently. She had been touched, almost
in spite of herself, at the girl's silence, and by the strained look on
her face, and she half-repented of having gone so far.

But the softening came too late, and was lost on Helen, who turned
away, and who did not even see Martha's indignant look when she
discovered that her mistress had been disturbed.

"Go to bed quietly, Helen, and you shall have news of your father in the
morning," called out Mrs. Desmond, still relenting.

But Helen paid no heed. To-morrow, that was hours and hours hence. What
might not happen between now and then? This had been her doing and she
might not even go to her father; might not even hold his hand or look
into his face. Perhaps it was right. She deserved it all, and more, far
more than that or any other punishment that could be inflicted upon her.
Locking herself into her little dark room, she flung herself upon the
bed and tried to think. Hours went by, and still she lay there, while
all her short life passed in review before her. The happy Indian days,
the return to England, her first parting with her father, and then his
marriage. Poor Helen! the enormity of her anger and resentment, of her
whole behaviour, in fact, since that fatal day, appeared now to her in
an even exaggerated light. And then that last crowning sin that had
borne such bitter consequences. That Mrs. Desmond's statement had been
exaggerated never once occurred to Helen. She fully believed that she,
and she only, was answerable for her father's illness, that if he died
she it was who would have killed him. Many things, unnoticed at the
time, recurred to her now in confirmation of this belief; whisperings
and averted looks amongst the servants, subtle inuendoes of Martha's,
and Mrs. Desmond's undisguised aversion. Yes, it was true. Oh, to think
that her sin could have brought such terrible retribution! What would
Cousin Mary say? And yet, although Helen fancied she could almost see
Cousin Mary's grave, pained look, that kind friend was the only human
being for whose companionship the girl craved through the long hours of
that terrible night. Very long the hours were, and very slowly they went
by as the poor child lay between sleeping and waking, always with the
one idea present with her; listening for every sound, but feeling
unworthy even to creep down and lie outside the sick-room door.

Pale dawn came at last. Helen lay and watched its coming until gradually
a numbness crept over her, and presently, worn out with her long vigil,
her eyes closed, and she slept. Ten minutes later a light tap came at
the door. The girl started up. Had she overslept herself? No; the room
was still nearly dark. What could the summons mean?

Still dressed, just as she had first thrown herself on the bed, pale and
heavy-eyed, with trembling fingers she opened the door. One of the
night nurses stood outside. Helen caught her breath, while the nurse
started a little at this sad-faced apparition.

"Don't be frightened, child," said the latter kindly, putting her hand
on the girl's arm. "Your father is better. He has slept for three hours,
and is now conscious, and he has asked for you."

It was lucky that the nurse had hold of Helen's arm, for, strung up as
she was, the good news almost overcame her, and she staggered forward.
But the necessity for self-command soon restored her to herself. A few
minutes later she was kneeling by her father's side--such a changed
father!--with her cheek pressed against his hand. On the other side
stood Mrs. Desmond, bending over him. He opened his eyes, and they
rested tenderly, lingeringly on Helen; then feebly taking his wife's
hand he placed it in Helen's. After this, exhausted by the effort, he
closed his eyes again, while an expression of contentment flitted over
his face. He had given these two to one another. Whatever happened to
him, surely Helen would be cared for now; his wife would learn to
understand her for his sake.

Dimly Helen understood her father, and inwardly she registered a
passionate vow of loyalty to his wishes. For the second time her
clinging fingers closed round her stepmother's irresponsive hand. Mrs.
Desmond made no movement. She accepted the charge, but she obstinately
withheld the love that might have made that charge an easy one. The
little wan figure creeping into the darkened room had had no power to
move her. But the meeting between father and daughter, the quiet content
that had come to her husband with Helen's presence and that all her
tenderness had failed to produce, these things she noted with jealous
eyes, and they gave a fresh impulse to her morbid feelings with regard
to her stepdaughter. Even here, by the sick-bed, Helen was first.
Colonel Desmond's first conscious request had been to see his child. The
scene did not last long. Mrs. Desmond quickly, almost impatiently,
motioned to Helen to go, and Helen obeyed unhesitatingly. Henceforward
she told herself, as in the glad morning light she knelt in prayer for
her father, there must be no more disobedience. If this awful shadow
might pass away, if the consequences of her sin might be averted, her
whole life should be spent in trying to redeem her fault. Pledges we
often make, how lightly! But our little Helen was made of sterner stuff.
Wilful and wayward as she was, there was a strain of that fibre in her,
possibly an inheritance from some martyred Irish ancestor, from which
saints and martyrs have been made. That, and the few following days of
alternating hope and fear, were an ordeal which left a mark upon her
never to be afterwards effaced. When, one morning, Dr. Russell himself
came to her and told her that her father was out of danger, she received
the news gravely, almost solemnly, for in the midst of her joy and
thankfulness she could not forget that she had been, in a certain sense,
taken at her word, and that her life was henceforth consecrated to the
fulfilment of the promises she had made in her hour of distress.



CHAPTER V.

LONGFORD GRANGE.


An old orchard, its trees gnarled and moss-grown, their blossoms lying
thick upon the grass beneath. A little to the left the embowered gables
and red chimneys of an old house. On the right, and stretching away
towards the horizon, a wide expanse of quiet meadows starred with
buttercups, and intersected by tall hawthorn hedges. Over all the
delicate blue sky of an English summer day.

It was a typical midland landscape, a landscape that possesses a quiet
charm peculiarly its own; and Helen, swinging herself gently to and fro
in a hammock under the bright sunshine, felt as much at home as though
Longford Grange had been her habitation for as many years as it had been
days.

The sad days in Bloomsbury Square were things of the past. The dreary
house was shut up; the precious china was carefully packed away, the
chairs and tables were shrouded in their dust-sheets, and Mrs. Desmond's
household gods were temporarily, at least, at peace. It had all been
accomplished in far too great a hurry to please that lady; but Dr.
Russell's orders that the colonel was to leave London directly he was
well enough to be moved were peremptory, and Mrs. Desmond was forced to
give way to necessity. The idea, too, of a country life was by no means
pleasant to her, and she was wondering in a bewildered way what spot to
fix upon as a temporary resting-place when a letter arrived from her
half-sister, Mrs. Bayden, the wife of a country clergyman, saying that
Longford Grange, a house within a quarter of a mile of the Rectory, was
to let, and might suit her sister's purpose. The idea did not
immediately approve itself to Mrs. Desmond, who disliked the too close
neighbourhood of poor relations; but the colonel, hearing of the
suggestion, expressed a desire to fall in with it, and the matter was
settled. Helen's fate trembled in the balance for a few days, as Miss
Walker found herself unable to leave town, and Mrs. Desmond seriously
contemplated leaving her troublesome stepdaughter behind in the
governess's charge. Upon the first suggestion of such a plan to the
colonel, however, he spoke so decidedly of his determination not to be
separated from Helen that Mrs. Desmond saw that, for the present at
least, it was useless to argue the point. Dr. Russell, meeting his
little friend upon the stairs one day clenched the matter by remarking
upon her altered looks, and he went out of his way to urge upon her
parents the necessity of change of scene and a life of freedom for their
child after the evident strain she had undergone during her father's
illness. Mrs. Desmond scarcely relished this advice; but even she looked
a little anxiously at the girl, and wondered rather uncomfortably
whether Helen's curiously changed manner could be due to physical
causes. As for Colonel Desmond, he took fright at once. Helen must have
a holiday, must run wild if necessary, he declared. He was very weak
still, and in the full enjoyment of an invalid's privileges. Although
his wife positively shuddered at the idea of Helen's running wild, she
did not attempt to gainsay him, and after this there was no more
discussion about the matter. Helen went to Longford Grange without a
governess, and with a tacit understanding that, under certain
restrictions, such as early rising and punctual attendance at meals,
she was to be allowed to do pretty much as she pleased.

But in spite of her father's tenderness, of the charms of a country
life, and the delights of freedom, Helen did not recover her health or
her spirits directly. Perhaps she was by nature a little morbid, and, if
so, the unnatural repression to which she had been subjected during the
past year, and the want of wholesome sympathy and young companionship
had tended to dangerously foster such a quality. She was always brooding
over what was past, and exaggerating her own failings. Morbidly
conscious that she was an object of dislike to her stepmother, she
credited Mrs. Desmond with a depth of feeling of which that cold-natured
woman was incapable. Anxious to show her true contrition for what was
past, she was perpetually fidgeting her stepmother with small attentions
which Mrs. Desmond not only failed to appreciate, but which she ascribed
to motives of which Helen's generous, open nature was incapable. Colonel
Desmond, indeed, looked on smiling. What an improvement in Helen! To be
sure he missed the child's bright ways and frank outspoken talk. But for
this, and for his little daughter's white, oldened face, he would have
begun to believe that his Margaret's training had worked miracles. But
to see these two beginning to understand one another was worth
anything, even his illness. No doubt it was her stepmother's tender
sympathy through that sad time that had brought Helen to this mind.

So reasoned the colonel, and was content. Meanwhile he and his wife
became once more a good deal absorbed in each other's society, and Helen
was left to her own devices. Lonely Helen, lying in her hammock on this
bright summer's day thinking of many things about which young heads
should not concern themselves, heard a step in the orchard, and starting
up hastily, saw a young girl, apparently about her own age, coming
towards her.

"One of those tiresome girls from the Rectory, I suppose," she said to
herself discontentedly. Helen had as yet only seen her stepmother's
relatives in church, Mrs. Desmond having hinted very strongly to her
sister that, owing to the colonel's state of health and her own
shattered nerves, intercourse between the Grange and Rectory would be
necessarily restricted, especially as regarded the young people. Agatha,
however, the eldest Rectory girl, had been presented to her aunt, in
whose eyes she had found favour, as Helen knew to her cost, having
smarted more than once under an unflattering comparison between herself
and the young lady in question.

Helen took stock of her as she advanced, a prim little figure dressed
with exceeding neatness. Her face was small and well-featured, and she
had pretty dark eyes and smooth coils of brown hair, but her lips were
thin and their expression unpleasing. She walked, too, with a short,
ungraceful step, and there was an air of demure superiority about her
which was scarcely calculated to impress favourably those of her own age
at least. "I don't like her," said Helen to herself as Agatha approached
and held out her hand with a patronizing air, observing:

"I suppose you are Helen Desmond?"

"I suppose I am," returned Helen a little mischievously, sitting up in
her hammock, but still swinging herself slowly to and fro.

Agatha's thin lips tightened. She had been annoyed that Helen had not
come forward to meet her; now she began to think her new acquaintance
not only ill-mannered but impertinent. "I daresay you don't know who I
am," she went on loftily.

"Oh, yes! I do. You are Agatha Bayden."

"How do you know that I am Agatha?"

"Because I saw you on Sunday boxing your little brother's ears behind
the churchyard wall. One of the choir boys said, 'That's Miss Agatha.'
I'm not sure he didn't say Agatha."

Agatha turned crimson.

"I have a message for you," she said, scorning a direct reply. "You are
to come to lunch with us to-day, and to spend the afternoon with us."

"Who says so?" asked Helen not very courteously.

"My mother has invited you, and my aunt says that you may come,"
returned Agatha still loftily.

The mention of Mrs. Desmond recalled Helen to her better mind. She
jumped out of the hammock.

"I must make myself tidy first," she said with a smile and a sudden
change of tone that perplexed her companion. "I oughtn't to have kept
you standing here. Will you come in and sit down while I get ready?"

"I have already spent half an hour with my aunt, and I think I had
better not disturb her again," said Agatha primly.

"Oh, no! of course not," returned Helen. "We will go to my room by the
backstairs, then we sha'n't disturb anybody."

The two girls went off together. Agatha, whose temper had been a good
deal ruffled, and who considered herself vastly Helen's superior, was
not disposed to be friendly, although Helen was already ashamed of her
blunt speeches, and tried to make amends for them by chatting pleasantly
as they went along. Her companion's frank and natural manner was not
what Agatha had expected, and she remained stiffly silent. On the
backstairs they encountered Martha, who was on her way to find Helen,
and who did not improve Agatha's temper by sending her to wait in the
library, while Helen was carried off to be tidied under Martha's own
eye, after which process she was to speak with Mrs. Desmond before
leaving the house.

"I hope, Helen, that you will behave properly," said that lady when
Helen, a little shrinking and downcast, as she always was now in her
stepmother's presence, appeared before her. "I scarcely like letting you
go, my sister's children are so well brought up. Pray be careful, and
avoid, if you can, doing anything dreadful. Don't loll in your chair at
the table, and please only speak when you are spoken to."

"I--I will do my best," answered Helen, struggling with her rising
temper. "Is that all?"

Mrs. Desmond looked at her sharply. "I hope you are not going to sulk,
Helen. I should not have said this had I not recollected your forward
behaviour when my cousin, Miss Macleod, was with us. Take example from
Agatha. She is really a charming girl. So gentle and ready to please! so
full of deference for her elders! With a little polish--"

"Agatha can get into a passion and box her little brother's ears when
she thinks that no one is looking," burst out Helen.

"Helen, you shock and disgust me. How can you repeat such low gossip?"

"It isn't gossip," cried Helen. But she was already repentant. "I am
sorry I said it, though; it was mean," she went on. "I will try to
behave as you wish me to. But oh! I _wish_ I might stop at home."

"Nonsense, Helen! Go at once. I have nothing more to say to you, and I
hope you will keep your word and neither say nor do anything to shock my
sister."

The girl looked at Mrs. Desmond for a moment and then turned away
impatiently, half-choked with the indignant words that rose to her lips.
The door closed rather noisily behind her as she rushed out into the
large square hall, where her father stood sunning himself in the open
doorway.

"Dear, dearest father!" she cried, running up to him and flinging her
arms round his neck.

"Don't smother me, child," he returned, laughing and gently disengaging
himself from her embrace.

"Why, Helen," he went on, "tears! What is the matter?"

"Nothing, nothing," cried the girl eagerly, dashing them away. "I am
going to the Rectory to spend a long day. I must not keep Agatha
waiting any longer. Good-bye!"

Just then the drawing-room door opened and Mrs. Desmond appeared. She
misinterpreted the situation, of course, but she made no remark as Helen
ran past her, although she threw an indignant glance at the girl.

"What is the matter with Helen?" asked the colonel rather sharply as his
wife joined him.

She smiled disagreeably.

"Need you ask me? You have heard the child's story."

"I have heard no story. But I did hope that we should have no more of
these painful scenes."

"So did I."

This was all that passed on the subject, but once more a shadow fell
between husband and wife.

Meanwhile the girls quickly traversed the short distance that separated
the Grange from the Rectory, where Helen was coldly greeted by Mrs.
Bayden, a hard-featured woman, superficially not at all like her sister
either in manner or appearance. Their respective lots in life, too, had
been very different. Mrs. Desmond, the only daughter of their father's
first wife, had been early adopted by her mother's relations, from whom
she had inherited a considerable fortune. Mrs. Bayden was the eldest of
a numerous second family, and had married a poor clergyman while still
young. All her life had been spent in a struggle with what is perhaps
harder than real poverty--the struggle to keep up appearances on a small
income. Her husband was a quiet, well-meaning man, entirely wrapt up in
his five children, and terribly oppressed by the sameness and monotony
of his parish work. He was inclined to be fretful with his wife when
things did not run smoothly; but he shifted even his natural
responsibilities upon her shoulders, and although a little obstinate at
times, like all weak people, he always in the end deferred to her
judgment.

Mr. and Mrs. Bayden and their two youngest children, Grace and Harold,
were in the drawing-room awaiting the girls' arrival, for the
luncheon-gong had already sounded before they entered.

"I knew we should be late," said Agatha spitefully. "Helen took such a
time to beautify herself."

"Well, go at once and take off your hats," returned Mrs. Bayden
impatiently, "and then come straight to the dining-room."

The girls obeyed. Helen, who was suffering from an unusual access of
shyness, was very glad to escape the gaze of so many pairs of curious
eyes, although the relief was only temporary, for immediately she was
seated at the luncheon-table she felt the scrutiny renewed.

"Agatha, my child, you look tired," said Mr. Bayden anxiously. The
Baydens were always in a tremor over their children's health.

"I am tired," remarked Agatha fretfully.

There was a diversion while various restoratives were pressed upon
Agatha by her parents, and then Mr. Bayden, who was kind-hearted, turned
to Helen and asked her how she liked Longford.

"I think it is a lovely place," said Helen enthusiastically.

Agatha and Grace sniggered, while their elders smiled a little
contemptuously.

"You don't call this flat country lovely, do you?" asked Mrs. Bayden.

"Is it flat?" returned Helen, colouring. "I never thought about that."

"Perhaps, mother, Helen will think Dane's End lovely, and will call the
open ditch a stream," suggested Agatha.

"I only meant," began Helen, "that after London--"

"Yes, yes," interposed Mr. Bayden, "of course the country is refreshing
after London, and the Grange is pretty. The church, too, is picturesque.
You admire our fine old church, don't you?"

"Yes," said Helen faintly. She had no eye for architectural beauties,
and the scantily-filled church had struck her on Sunday as cold and
dreary.

"I suppose that our village singing sounded very poor to you after that
in the London churches," went on Mr. Bayden, the faintest suspicion of a
self-satisfied smile dawning in the corners of his mouth.

"Yes," said Helen again, but with more decision. Her musical ears had
really been tortured by the discordant sounds produced by a choir of
village boys habited in soiled surplices, and engaged apparently in a
desperate attempt to outshout one another. Her frank assent was
unfortunate, however. Mrs. Bayden was proud of her choir, which she
managed, as she did everything else in the parish, but being entirely
destitute of musical taste she was quite unaware that the results
obtained by her efforts were not musically satisfactory, although a
volume of sound was not lacking. Helen was dimly conscious that she had
said something wrong, and her relief was considerable when Harold, a lad
of about twelve, who was seated beside her, looked up into her face with
his merry blue eyes and said:

"I think our boys make a horrid noise, especially Jim Hunt. I saw you
looking at him. You can hear his voice over everybody's. I don't sing at
all when I sit by him."

"Harold, how wicked of you!" said his mother. "You don't deserve the
privilege of sitting in the choir. Jim Hunt is an excellent boy, and his
voice is most useful."

Agatha, her mother's echo, murmured, "How wicked!" upon which Harold
told her to "shut up."

"Mother, do you hear that?" cried Agatha in her high-pitched tones.

"Harold, Harold!" interposed Mr. Hayden nervously, "be good, pray. You
don't want to be punished again, do you?"

"She has no business to interfere," persisted Harold. "Mother may say
I'm wicked; she sha'n't."

"Harold!" cried Mrs. Bayden in a warning voice, after which there was an
instant's pause while hands wore joined, and Mr. Bayden murmured a hasty
and inaudible grace.

This over, Helen, accompanied by Grace and Harold, withdrew to the
school-room, Agatha remaining with her parents.

"Well, Agatha, and how did you get on at the Grange this morning?" asked
her father with some curiosity; while Mrs. Bayden, who for reasons of
her own was particularly anxious that Agatha should produce a favourable
impression on her aunt, looked up eagerly.

"I got on as well as possible, at least until I found Helen. Aunt
Margaret kept me with her for ever so long, and she asked me to go and
see her again."

"Did she? Well, perhaps she means to be kind after all," said Mr.
Bayden. "What do you say, mother?"

Mrs. Bayden was knitting vigorously, and she only replied by an
impatient movement. Agatha went on.

"As for Helen, I don't wonder that she annoys Aunt Margaret. She was
quite rude and disagreeable to me at first. Do you like her, mother?"

"I can't say I do. Still I haven't much pity for my sister. Why did she
marry at all at her time of life, and above all, why did she marry a man
with a child? She ought to have considered her nephews and nieces before
she took such a step."

Poor, over-anxious Mrs. Bayden, who had always looked forward to a time
when her rich lonely sister would take a fancy to one, if not more, of
her children, considered Helen as an interloper, and found it hard to
tolerate the girl's very existence. In addition to this, quite enough
about Helen's past misdeeds had been said to prejudice her in the
Baydens' eyes. Under the circumstances it can scarcely be wondered at,
perhaps, that her reception at the Rectory was not a very warm one.
Agatha and her mother, indeed, considered that they had done all that
was needed, but Mr. Bayden had some qualms of conscience with regard to
the lonely young stranger within their gates.

"Poor child!" he said, as he rose from his chair preparatory to starting
on his usual afternoon potter in his parish, "we must be kind to her,
Agatha. I daresay she has had a rough bringing up."

"She has had every advantage with my sister," snapped Mrs. Bayden. "She
was exceedingly brusque at luncheon, and she ought, _at least_, to have
learnt better manners by this time. Our choir isn't good enough for her,
indeed! I only hope that her example won't make Harold naughtier than
ever."

"I don't see how anything could do that," observed Agatha.

"Well, Agatha," returned her mother persuasively, "I think you had
better go upstairs to the others now. Your aunt doesn't care for Helen,
I know, but still she mightn't be pleased if she thought that we had
neglected her."

Agatha obeyed rather reluctantly. Mrs. Bayden's eyes followed her with
admiring glances. Agatha was her mother's idol. Not disposed to be over
gentle even with her children, to all of whom she was honestly devoted,
Mrs. Bayden could never find it in her heart to speak a hasty word to
Agatha. The girl was well aware of her mother's weakness, and although,
to do her justice, she was an excellent and helpful daughter, she had
imbibed so high an opinion of her own talents, and of herself generally
from this circumstance, that to everyone, save her parents, she was
often insufferably overbearing. Then, too, she had been made the sharer
of all her mother's hopes and plans, and neither Mr. nor Mrs. Bayden had
any secrets from her. Her opinion was a distinct factor in the family
councils, and her sharp, often pert, remarks about their friends and
neighbours were rather encouraged than checked. Even her two big
brothers were not allowed to tease her with impunity when they were at
home for their holidays, whilst her authority was upheld in the rigid
obedience that she tried to exact from Grace and Harold.

Perhaps for all her faults and foibles Agatha was rather to be pitied
than blamed, but Helen was scarcely likely to see them in that light,
and she may be pardoned for experiencing a sensation of disgust on
seeing Agatha enter the school-room and calmly sweep away some chips of
wood and cardboard out of which Harold, with some wire and a few rough
tools, was trying to construct what he called an organ. Harold had a
taste for mechanics, and was always dreaming of inventions. He did not
often find such a sympathetic listener as Helen, to whom he was
explaining his plans, and who was deeply interested in the description
of his designs for cardboard organ-pipes and other contrivances.

"I think tin would be better," she was saying gravely as Agatha walked
in. "I will ask my father--"

"Harold, you know that you oughtn't to make such a mess in this room.
Clear it away at once."

Harold, whose face had been glowing with enthusiasm, looked up and saw
his sister. His whole expression altered.

"I sha'n't," he said.

"Sha'n't indeed! you'll have to," and Agatha raised the table-cloth
whereon the litter lay, and swept Harold's treasures on to the floor.

"There, now, you have spoilt those pipes, and they took me hours to
make," screamed Harold, rushing at his sister and pushing her backward.
"I hate you. You are a horrid disagreeable thing. I will never forgive
you."

"You bad, wicked boy!" cried Agatha, holding his hands; "this is the end
of all those fine promises that you made last Sunday. Supposing you were
to die in one of those dreadful passions, you would go to hell."

"It is you who are wicked to speak like that," interposed Helen, unable
to witness the scene in silence any longer. "You provoked him, you know
you did."

"Children, children, what is the matter?"

The combatants stopped their hostilities and turned round. Mrs. Bayden,
on her way upstairs, had heard the noise of the scuffle and had appeared
upon the scene.

"It is Harold, of course, as usual," said Agatha, recovering her
self-possession at once. "He will do his silly carpentering here, and
you know you have often told him he is only to do it in the barn. I was
only trying to make him obedient, and he flew at me and pushed and
kicked me."

"Oh, Harold!" sighed Mrs. Bayden, "how could you? Fancy if you had
injured your sister seriously."

"It isn't true," began Harold, but his mother stopped him.

"I want to hear no more. I have heard too much already. That
rubbish"--pointing to the wood and cardboard on the floor--"must be
given to me. Pick it up."

Harold, his face dark and lowering, obeyed, and the "rubbish," tenderly
placed in a wastepaper basket, was handed to his mother.

"You will take care of it, won't you?" he said, with a little break in
his voice.

"No, Harold, I must do my duty. You must be punished for your conduct. I
shall burn these things."

Harold could not guess all that her mistaken sternness cost his mother.
With a cry like that of a wounded animal he rushed away, and Helen
stepped forward.

"Please don't burn those things," she said, "Agatha really did provoke
him. I should have been quite as angry, perhaps angrier, if anyone had
treated me as she did Harold."

"I am quite ready to believe that, Helen," returned Mrs. Bayden with a
curious smile. "When you remember the terrible consequences of your own
conduct, you will not wonder that I am anxious to save Harold from the
scourge of an ungoverned temper."

Helen shrank back as though she had received a blow. Mrs. Bayden was
quite right, she thought. Her interference could never do any good. But
she was still smarting under the sense of injustice, although she was
not the sufferer upon this occasion.

"Why didn't you tell your mother that Harold wasn't to blame?" she asked
Grace indignantly when Mrs. Bayden and Agatha had gone, and those two
were left alone.

Grace shrugged her shoulders.

"It wouldn't have been any good," she said; "mother always takes
Agatha's part. Besides, she and Harold are always quarrelling. It's just
as often his fault as hers. I wish he was at school like the other boys.
But come along out into the garden. We can take books with us and
read."

Nothing loth, Helen agreed. They found a shady spot, and Grace, who
liked nothing so much as reading, was soon deep in her book. But Helen
was restless and ill at ease. Her attention wandered, and she could
think of nothing but Harold.

"I think I will go for a stroll," she said presently. "You needn't come.
I like wandering about by myself."

Grace was too comfortable to move. She merely nodded her assent, and
went on with her book.

Thus left free to follow her own devices, Helen searched all over the
garden for Harold, but without success. She was just giving up the
search in despair when she heard a rustling noise inside the shrubbery.
Pushing her way amongst the bushes with some difficulty, she came upon a
spot that had been cleared, and there she found Harold digging away with
might and main. He was so intent upon his work that he did not at first
notice her approach, and she watched him with some amusement as he flung
down each spadeful of earth, striking it sharply several times with his
spade as he did so.

At length he became aware that he was no longer alone, and looked round
sharply.

"However did you find me out?" he asked.

"I have been looking for you, and I heard a noise in the shrubbery and
guessed that I might find you here."

"I'm glad you've come. I liked you directly I saw you; and you took my
part."

Helen was silent. She had rather a wise little head on her shoulders,
and an instinct warned her not to discuss his sister's behaviour with
Harold.

"Don't you wonder what I'm doing?" he went on.

"You are digging, aren't you?"

"Yes; I come here when I am too angry to do anything else, and I slash
away at the earth until I grow quite happy again."

Helen smiled.

"What a good idea! I can guess exactly how you feel."

"Can you? Well, don't tell anyone. If Agatha knew, she would be sure to
say that I was in mischief, and then I should be forbidden to come here
again."

"I won't say a word. Go on digging, and I will stop and watch you."

Harold threw down his spade.

"I don't want to dig any more. I say, shall we sit on the top of the
wall and talk? There is a place just there overlooking the road from
where one can see everything that goes by without being seen one's
self."

Helen needed no persuasion. Assisted by Harold, who climbed like a cat,
she easily scaled the wall, and, sheltered from observation by the leafy
branches of an overhanging copper beech, they soon fell into pleasant
talk. So deeply interesting were their mutual confidences, that it was
not until a glimpse of Mrs. Desmond's victoria going by rapidly recalled
Helen to a recollection of the impropriety of her present position that
she remembered Grace, whom she had left so unceremoniously, and who
would probably be seeking her, as the afternoon was wearing on.

"What's the matter?" asked Harold, seeing Helen's face fall.

"There is mamma going to the Rectory. She said that she might fetch me."

"Why don't you say mother? Mamma sounds so funny."

"Because she isn't my _mother_."

Both were silent for a moment. Harold's questioning blue eyes looked
curiously into Helen's face, but it betrayed nothing. Helen was too
deep-natured to wear her heart upon her sleeve. She knew quite well that
Mrs. Desmond disliked the word mamma, considering it underbred; but the
girl had told herself that she would call no stranger mother, and she
kept her word.

"I suppose that I ought to have been with Grace all this time," she
said, breaking silence. "Come along, Harold, and let us find her
quickly."

"Never mind Grace. She never cares for anybody when she has a book, and
she didn't want you to come at all. I expect it is about tea-time, and
the best thing we can do is to go straight back to the school-room."

Unfortunately, in order to reach the house it was necessary to pass
right under the drawing-room windows. Mrs. Desmond's victoria had
deposited her at the Rectory some time before Harold and Helen could
return thither, and she clearly discerned the two untidy little figures
scudding across the lawn.

"Dear me! Is that Helen?" she asked. "I told her to be ready when I
called for her."

Mrs. Bayden, who, with Agatha's assistance, was dispensing tea, looked
up nervously.

"Helen! I hope not. I thought that the school-room tea had gone up some
time ago. Agatha, would you--"

"It is Helen," broke in Agatha abruptly. "She ran away from Grace and
left her alone all the afternoon. Of course she has been with Harold.
Birds of a feather, you know. Shall I tell her to come to you at once,
Aunt Margaret?"

"Do, my dear," said Mrs. Desmond. "I wish Helen were more like your
girl, Susan," she went on as Agatha left the room.

"Agatha is one in a thousand," returned Mrs. Bayden, her sharp voice
growing almost soft.

"Yes," observed Mr. Bayden plaintively. "If all our children were but
like her! There's Harold now. Would you believe it, I met him in the
garden early in the afternoon, and I spoke to him quite gently, and he
rushed past me saying, 'I hate you all, I hate you all!' Such terrible
language to use to a father."

"I'm afraid that it is all your own fault, Richard," returned Mrs.
Desmond unsympathetically. "You spoil your children. I positively
shudder to think of what the world will come to when--"

"But you yourself admit that Agatha is all that can be desired,"
interrupted Mrs. Bayden impatiently. She was by no means pleased that
her husband should expose Harold's naughtiness to an outsider.

"Agatha seems a good girl," replied Mrs. Desmond coldly. "She needs
forming, of course; but considering that she has spent all her life in a
country village one must not blame her for that. As for Harold, why
don't you send him to school?"

"Because, Margaret, I can't afford it at present," said Mrs. Bayden
bluntly.

"An excellent reason, my dear Susan. It is a pity that you can't manage,
though, to discipline him at home. Why don't you take him in hand,
Richard?"

Mr. Bayden sighed deeply and looked imploringly at his sister-in-law.

"How can I?" he said. "My children are so dear to me. And then I have
other cares. The parish--"

"Oh! by the way, talking of the parish," interrupted Mrs. Desmond,
"things seem to be very badly managed here. Two different families have
been at the Grange begging since we came. There can't be any poverty
here, and besides--Why, Helen, what have you been doing to yourself?"
This last was addressed to her stepdaughter, who had been marched down
by Agatha, and who was now brought summarily into the drawing-room.

"I--I have only been in the garden," said Helen, painfully conscious of
tumbled hair, soiled hands, and torn frock.

"Only in the garden! What are those green marks on your dress?"

"I'm sure I don't know," said Helen, beginning to brush herself
vigorously and making bad worse.

"You don't know! It looks to me as if you had been climbing _trees_."

"Oh, no! indeed I haven't," said Helen, thankful to be able to deny so
terrible an accusation.

"What have you been doing, then?"

"I--I only climbed a wall."

"Climbed a wall! What for?"

"To sit there."

"This is the child for whom no expense has been spared," observed Mrs.
Desmond tragically to her sister. "Dancing lessons, drilling lessons,
deportment, this last especially, have been dinned into her from morning
till night. And yet your Agatha knows how to behave herself better than
she does."

There was a pause. Mrs. Desmond indulged in a deep sigh, and the
Baydens, a little nettled at this half-contemptuous reference to Agatha,
remained silent.

"Come," went on the injured lady presently, addressing Helen. "I am
sorry that I ever allowed you to come here. I knew that you would
disgrace me. Say good-bye to my sister."

"Good-bye!" said Helen, giving her hand awkwardly to Mrs. Bayden.

"Oh! you must let her come again," observed good-natured Mr. Bayden.
"She didn't mean to do anything wrong, I'm sure. And I daresay it was
quite as much Harold's fault as hers. Pray, don't be angry with the poor
child."

Ejaculating a few conciliatory remarks of this kind, Mr. Bayden
accompanied his sister-in-law to her carriage, standing bareheaded in
the porch until she passed out of sight.

"Really," he observed fretfully as he re-entered the drawing-room and
threw himself into an armchair, "really, my dear, you must shield me
from your sister as much as possible. I shrink from no sacrifice for my
dear children's sake, as you know; but pray don't let her attack me
again. It was most unfeeling of her to speak as she did about the
parish. Indeed, it was worse than unfeeling, it was positively
disrespectful to speak in that way to a clergyman. I, too, who toil in
my parish from one year's end to another! She positively spoke as if I
didn't do my duty."

"Do you think, Richard, that it is pleasant for me to hear our children
slightingly spoken of?" returned Mrs. Bayden. "But I bear it, and so
must you. As for parish matters, Margaret knows no more about the
management of a parish than she does about children. It won't do to
quarrel with her, though."

"Well, spare me, spare me, that is all I ask," said Mr. Bayden. "Really
I feel half sorry for that poor child Helen."

"I expect that she is quite able to take care of herself," answered the
wife. "You mustn't forget that she nearly killed her father by her
behaviour in London."

"That was very shocking, certainly," murmured Mr. Bayden. "Give me
another cup of tea, my dear. By the way, Betty Smith has been attacking
me again about her daughter. These people are never satisfied. They are
a most ungrateful set. And Joseph Hall spoke to me about my new stole.
Did you ever hear such impertinence? Just as if I were accountable to my
people for anything I choose to do."

This, the waywardness of their flock in indulging in every Briton's
birthright, the privilege of private judgment, was a congenial topic
with the worthy couple. In its discussion they temporarily forgot their
grievances against Mrs. Desmond, who, meanwhile, with Helen seated
beside her, drove home in silence. The root of her increased bitterness
against her stepdaughter lay in that little incident that had occurred
in the morning. But of this Helen could not be aware, and the poor
child, recalling all her good resolutions, began once more to exaggerate
her own shortcomings, and to wonder miserably why it was that she was so
hopelessly stupid and bad. And yet, in spite of everything, she did not
regret her visit to the Rectory. Agatha and Grace might be cold and
disagreeable, and sneer at her whenever she opened her lips, but Harold
with his eager face and his odd fancies was quite different. If only she
and Harold might meet sometimes, she felt that she could bear the snubs
of his family with a good deal of equanimity. And in planning how she
could help Harold, and how she could manage to interest her father in
her new friend, Helen forgot her own wrongs, and forgot even to be angry
when her stepmother told her that her company would not be required in
the drawing-room that evening. When our heads are full of others it is
wonderful how insignificant our own personal concerns become.



CHAPTER VI.

HAROLD.


Helen's attempts to interest her father in Harold were crowned with
success almost beyond her hopes. Colonel Desmond, who was fond of
children, had been already attracted by the boy's singularly handsome
face, and having a certain turn for mechanics himself, he was disposed
to be sympathetic over Harold's futile efforts to construct organs out
of cardboard and to model engines from blocks of wood. More than this,
it pleased the colonel to see his little daughter and her small friend
together. They had, indeed, an excellent effect upon one another. Both
naturally wilful and wayward with others, they seemed to have but one
will when together. Harold, who was accustomed to be alternately teased
and bullied by his sisters, to be wept over by his mother, and to be
treated as a dangerous if beloved animal by his father, looked upon
Helen as a superior being, on whose sympathy he could always count, who,
in some curious way, understood that it was not the object of his life
to outrage the feelings of those around him, and to whom he could safely
confide his dearest and most secret projects without fear of ridicule.
As for Helen, her feelings for her new friend partook of a motherly as
well as of a sisterly character. Her added years and her larger
experience, so far from giving her any desire to domineer over Harold,
aroused in her heart a sort of tenderness for him, which his sister's
treatment of him and the want of sympathy which he experienced at home
tended to foster. With regard to Harold's talents Helen had no
misgivings; and she was ready to listen patiently for hours whilst he
unfolded his schemes to her, ascribing to her own dullness and want of
comprehension the seeming vagueness of some of these schemes, promising
eagerly to help him in the working out of certain dull yet necessary
details of the sort which aspiring geniuses of all ages have been
disposed to shirk.

It must not be supposed that this happy friendship was recognized at
once by the children's respective belongings. Indeed, had it not been
for the colonel's unwonted firmness, the probability is that Harold and
Helen, after their first meeting, would have been kept resolutely apart.

"The colonel seems to have taken a fancy to Harold," said Mr. Bayden to
his wife one day when Colonel Desmond and Helen had called and invited
the boy to accompany them on some distant expedition.

"Such a pity that it was not Agatha!" sighed Mrs. Bayden, taking up a
fresh stocking from her heaped-up basket.

Mrs. Bayden was not the only person who considered it a pity that the
colonel's fancy had been taken by Harold.

"I could have endured Agatha, but why you choose to annoy me by having
that rough boy continually here I cannot understand," observed Mrs.
Desmond to her husband.

"My dear wife, why should Harold annoy you? He is scarcely ever in the
house, and he can't do much harm in the garden."

"He is the most unsatisfactory of my sister's children. Everyone knows
that he is a bad boy. Even Richard, who is a perfect idiot about his
children, acknowledges that he can do nothing with Harold."

"All I can say is that Bayden is--well, I must not abuse your
relations, Margaret. But, believe me, that boy has some good stuff in
him. Besides, he is a fine, handsome little chap, and his resemblance to
you is quite astonishing. Surely that ought to recommend him to me."

The colonel's speech, although exceedingly diplomatic, was justified by
facts. Harold's face, notwithstanding its rounded outlines, did bear a
resemblance to his aunt's. She smiled.

"You may say what you like, John, but I can't believe that Harold and
Helen can be good companions for one another. If she had taken a fancy
even to Grace I should have made no objection."

"Let the children be," returned the colonel a little testily. "Helen
looks better already for young companionship, and we cannot force
children's likes and dislikes any more than we can our own."

"That, I suppose, you learnt from Mary Macleod," said Mrs. Desmond, the
smile fading from her face. "However, I shall say no more. If any harm
comes of your foolish indulgence remember that I warned you."

The colonel did not reply. Why his wife had yielded so readily rather
puzzled him. But Mrs. Desmond had her own reasons. Helen had long been a
thorn in her side, and the pricking of this poor little thorn was fast
becoming unendurable to her. She had resolved, therefore, that her
stepdaughter must be sent away, and, like a wise woman, she was
husbanding all her forces towards the gaining of this important end, and
she was well aware that a little complaisance in an unimportant matter
of this kind would make her future task easier.

Helen was even more surprised than her father to find that after her
unlucky day at the Rectory no embargo was put upon her intercourse with
Harold. How it came about neither they nor their elders exactly knew,
but through the long June days the two children were constantly
together, either working in a rough workshop which the colonel had
extemporized for them in an outbuilding, or rambling about the country
in search of flowers and butterflies. Notwithstanding Mrs. Desmond's
determination about Helen's future, it is scarcely likely that she could
have witnessed her stepdaughter leading a life so opposed to her own
preconceived notions without remonstrance had she not been really
suffering from the effects of her long anxiety in the spring, and
disposed for the first time in her life to let things take their course.

It was a very happy time for Helen, the happiest, perhaps, that she had
ever known. In the old days, when all her desires were gratified, her
waywardness and wilfulness had thrown a cloud over everything. Now she
was honestly trying to do what was right and to keep her temper under
due control, whilst healthy, sympathetic companionship kept her mind
occupied and prevented her from dwelling upon morbid fancies.

"If only mamma would like me a little," she used to think sometimes as
she went off to bed chilled by Mrs. Desmond's frigid good-night, but
full of happy plans for the morrow. But even of gaining "mamma's liking"
Helen did not altogether despair. She meant to be so good, so obedient,
she felt quite sure that she must win her stepmother at last.

"What is it that you wish for most in all the world?" she asked Harold
suddenly one evening.

Mrs. Desmond had kept her room all day, and Helen and Harold, having
drunk tea in the school-room, with the colonel as their guest, were
sitting under an apple-tree in the orchard. The setting sun flooded the
fair June landscape, and threw a glory round their young heads, showing
to their half-bewildered childish eyes strange visions and "lights that
never were on sea or land."

"What do I wish for most!" repeated Harold. "To do something great, I
think. What is the good of living if one is only to be just like
everyone else. I should like people to point me out as I went by, and to
say, 'That is Harold Bayden. He did--' I wonder what I should like them
to say, there are so many things it would be nice to be famous for."

"I don't think that I should care to be famous," said Helen gravely. "I
should like everyone to like me. It is dreadful not to be liked."

"You can't expect everyone to like you. It is much better to have one or
two people who like you very much."

"Yes. But people don't like me. I don't know why it is."

"Oh, Helen! doesn't your father like you? And I think that you are
awfully jolly."

"Of course my father likes me, because he is my father. But you know
that Grace and Agatha can't bear me. Perhaps you wouldn't like me,
Harold, if you knew how wicked I have been."

"Nonsense, Helen!"

"It isn't nonsense, Harold. Shall I tell you? I hardly like to speak of
it. It makes me shudder when I think of what might have been."

"Helen, what on earth do you mean?"

Harold's big eyes were fixed in amazement on his companion's face. She
went on speaking more to herself than to him.

"And yet it is true, quite true, though I can scarcely believe it
sometimes. And when you say that I am so much nicer and jollier than
Grace and Agatha I feel like a hypocrite."

"Helen!"

"They never did what I have done. Just think, Harold, I was so angry and
so wicked one day that I tried to run away. Father followed me and
brought me back, and he didn't scold me a bit, but he was so sorry that
he cried--actually _cried_. Did you know that a man could cry?"

"I am not sure," said Harold meditatively. Mr. Bayden's manner when he
was unduly annoyed by parochial matters, or provoked by his son's
iniquities, was often suggestive of tears, consequently the idea of a
man's crying presented nothing very tragic to Harold's imagination.
Besides, he was a little puzzled by the intensity of Helen's manner, and
scarcely understood her.

"I don't see that there was anything very wicked in running away. Of
course you would have gone back. What else could you have done? And I
daresay you were provoked." Harold spoke soothingly. He knew what it was
to be provoked himself, and had had his own dreams of running away to
sea, dreams which, it must be allowed, had never shaped themselves very
distinctly in his brain. Still, in virtue of them he could sympathize
most fully with Helen in her small escapade.

"Yes; but, Harold, you don't understand," she went on. "It was coming
out after me on that bitter night that nearly killed my father. Just
think: if--if he had died I should have killed him." Helen's voice
broke, and she buried her face in her hands.

"Don't, Helen," said Harold after a moment's perplexed pause. "You
didn't, you see. It is all right. Very likely your father would have
been ill anyway. And besides--"

"No, Harold, it is no good saying those things," burst out Helen. "As
long as I live I shall always see father lying on his bed, too feeble
almost to speak, and I shall have the feeling that it was for me. I try
to forget it, but it always comes back. I should like to be able to do
something very hard for him or for--mamma, just to prove how sorry I
am."

"Did he really look as if he were going to die?" asked Harold rather
irrelevantly.

Helen nodded. To speak the words again hurt her.

"I wonder what dying is like?" went on Harold.

Suddenly, and almost as he spoke, the sun dropped behind a bank of red
clouds. A little breeze sprang up and murmured in the trees overhead.

Helen shuddered and drew closer to her companion.

"It must be very awful," he went on. "And to think that the world will
go on just the same when we are gone. The sun will shine and the birds
will sing, and we shall be lying in the dreadful cold earth. It is
horrible."

"I used to think just like that once, Harold," whispered Helen
half-shyly. "I was dreadfully afraid of all sorts of things. I used to
think after I had been naughty that perhaps I should go to sleep and
wake up in hell. One day I told Cousin Mary--you don't know Cousin Mary,
do you? It is so easy to talk to her; one can tell her _anything_. She
thinks that dying will be only like going to sleep in the dark. We shall
be a little frightened, perhaps, but we shall know all the time that
nothing bad can really happen to us. And if any pain comes to us
afterwards it will be quite different from the pain that we suffer
now--pain that will never make us impatient or angry, because we shall
be able then to understand that it is bringing us nearer to God and
heaven. Cousin Mary says that is the end of all pain, only we are not
able to understand it quite now."

"Cousin Mary must say very odd things," observed Harold, who had been
trying to fathom Helen's meaning, and who felt hopelessly puzzled.
"Mother says that she is odd, and father says that some of her notions
are not--I forget the word; but they never ask her to stay with us. Is
she really very nice?"

"Very," answered Helen emphatically.

There was a pause. Both children were busy with their own thoughts. They
made a striking picture as they sat close together beneath the gnarled
apple-tree, the dying sunset lights lingering on their fair young
heads--a picture that was not without its pathos, because life must pass
that way, life--and death.

"I expect that it is getting late, and I ought to be going home," said
Harold after a few minutes, wearying of silence, and beginning to feel
that even Agatha's teasing would have a refreshingly every-day sound
after such serious thoughts.

Helen rose rather reluctantly.

"Very well," she said. "Let us go in and say good-night to father, and
afterwards I will walk with you as far as the gate."

"And I say, Helen, you won't forget to cut out those wheels for me
to-morrow morning, will you? They must match exactly, remember. And if
you could pull out and stretch that wire----"

"I sha'n't forget, Harold. You needn't fear. But, by the way, you never
told me about Jim Hunt."

"I heard father saying that he was very ill indeed. Mother stopped him
from saying more when she saw that I was there. I was thinking about him
just now. I used to hate him sometimes when he sat in the choir and
screamed in my ear. But I'm sorry for him now. I wish I hadn't hated
him. Father spoke as if he thought he was going to die."

"Couldn't we do something for him?" suggested practical Helen.

"I have sixpence," returned Harold, "if that would do."

Helen shook her head.

"You can't give people money when they are ill. I'll tell you what I
might do. I'll ask father if I may gather some strawberries and take
them to a sick boy in the village. If you come to-morrow morning
directly your lessons are over we might take them together."

"It won't do for Agatha to know. I should never hear the end of it. And,
besides, she hates poor people."

"No one need know. Father never asks any questions. He will just say,
'Do as you like.' He is sure to say nothing."

Harold was silent for a moment. A little struggle was going on his mind.
He knew that his mother would have disapproved of the project, and that
he was never allowed to go near any cottage where sickness was. But he
was sorry for Jim Hunt, who had done him many a rough kindness,
kindnesses which Harold was conscious of having often ill requited, and
he really longed to do the village lad this small service.

"Don't you care to come, Harold?" asked Helen in surprised tones. She
was a little annoyed that her plan had not immediately approved itself
to Harold, never guessing the reason for his hesitation. "I can go by
myself if you are afraid of Agatha."

"I am not afraid of Agatha, and of course I will go too. The
strawberries won't be my present, but I will tell Jim that I will give
him the engine I am making now when it is finished. And I say, Helen, we
might call it 'Jim,' mightn't we? I daresay that would please him."

"I'm sure it would. Then it is settled. I shall be waiting for you in
the orchard to-morrow. If we walk fast across the fields we can stay a
little while with Jim and get back in plenty of time for lunch."

No hitch occurred in the projected arrangements. Mrs. Desmond still kept
her room on the following day. Colonel Desmond gladly complied with his
little daughter's request, and Helen, basket in hand, was awaiting
Harold in the orchard some time before the appointed hour, which,
however, passed without bringing him. At last she saw him running across
the grass.

"How late you are! I began to think you weren't coming," she cried.

Harold's face was flushed, and did not wear its best expression.

"I came as soon as I could," he said. "Of course, as I was in a hurry
everything went wrong. I _hate_ Latin. Why need one learn what one
doesn't like? And Agatha--"

"Never mind Agatha," interrupted Helen soothingly. "You have come; that
is the great thing. Let us start at once. We can talk as we go."

"How fast you are walking!" said Harold presently, a little note of
fretfulness in his voice as, beneath a blazing noonday sun, Helen
half-ran across the fields, her companion toiling after her.

"Because we must make haste," returned Helen rather sharply, looking
round at Harold. Then she stopped short suddenly. "What is the matter?"
she asked in altered tones. "Aren't you well? Let me go alone, and you
can wait in the shade till I come back."

"Nonsense, Helen!" said Harold, still fretfully. "I am quite well, only
I am hot, and you will walk so fast."

Helen did not reply. She altered her pace and began to talk on other
subjects; but Harold was singularly quiet and unresponsive.

In a few minutes the children arrived at a stile, and, leaving the
fields, passed into a narrow lane, from which, by a plank that crossed
a black, festering ditch, they reached a group of low thatched houses,
very picturesque in appearance, but telling a tale of age and decay.
Towards one of these, rather larger than the rest, and separated from
the road by a strip of garden, Harold now led the way, closely followed
by Helen. Harold knocked at the door, and a gruff voice cried "Come in!"
Harold walked in boldly; Helen followed timidly. These scenes were new
to her, and she felt terribly shy.

The Hunt family was seated at dinner. The father, in his rough working
clothes, had already pushed an almost untasted plate of food away from
him, but several flaxen heads were busy over the table, whilst Mrs.
Hunt, a hard-featured woman, was bustling about and speaking in a sharp,
high-pitched key.

"Lor'! be it you, Master Harold?" cried the man, whilst the woman
dropped a saucepan lid in her astonishment.

"I--we came to ask about Jim," said Harold.

"Well, he bean't no better as I can see," returned the man. "You can
tell the parson so."

"I didn't come from my father, I came for myself," said Harold stoutly;
"and please we should like to see Jim if we may."

Husband and wife exchanged glances.

"Won't the young lady sit down?" asked Mrs. Hunt, after an instant's
pause, dusting a chair for Helen with her apron.

"No, thank you," replied Helen, "we only came to see Jim, and we haven't
much time."

"Let 'em go, then, if they wull," observed the man, answering his wife's
unspoken question.

"He won't know you," said Mrs. Hunt, whose eyes were fixed on Helen's
basket; "and it's no good giving him things he can't swallow. But if
Master Harold and the young lady like to go upstairs they're welcome.
He's lying in the room right atop of the stairs. You'll find the door
open to keep the room cool."

The visitors needed no second bidding. Stumbling up the dark rotten
staircase they soon found themselves in the room where, on a rough bed,
Jim, with wide open, blank eyes, lay tossing and tumbling. The
atmosphere here was less oppressive than that below, and through the
tiny window a little breeze came, and the sunlight made one golden patch
upon the rough, dirty floor.

[Illustration: HELEN AND HAROLD AT JIM'S BEDSIDE]

"Don't you know us, Jim?" asked Harold, going up to the sick boy and
bending over him.

Jim only replied by an unmeaning stare, and began to mutter inaudibly.

"See, Jim, we have brought you some strawberries," said Helen, advancing
and opening her basket.

A glance of intelligence passed over the lad's face as he looked from
Helen to the strawberries, but it faded directly, and the low muttering
recommenced.

"Can't we do anything for him?" asked Harold in a whisper.

"I think that we might make him more comfortable," said Helen, beginning
with deft fingers to straighten the bed-clothes and raise the pillows.
"And see, his poor mouth is parched. We might moisten his lips."

"Well, miss, you are kind, to be sure," said Mrs. Hunt's voice from the
doorway; "I can't do for him as I would. There's the children; they must
be seen to, and the fowls and the pigs. He was a good lad to me, though
he is not my own, and we never had a wrong word, never."

"Won't he get better?" asked Harold.

"I don't believe as he will," returned the woman. "The very night as he
was took I says to his father, he's took for death. And I believe my
words is coming true."

"Water!" murmured Jim, a look of consciousness stealing into his
fever-stricken eyes.

The woman hastened to his side and gave the water, not unkindly.

"Who's that?" he asked, pointing at Harold.

"Why, Jim, don't you know? That's Master Harold come to see you. And the
young lady from the Grange, she--" But Jim was already beginning to
wander again, and both Harold and Helen were almost due at home, and
dared not prolong their stay.

"It is so dreadful for him to be alone," said Helen as they stumbled
down-stairs preceded by Mrs. Hunt. "May I come and sit with him this
afternoon?"

Mrs. Hunt assented. She did not want the young lady "bothering about,"
but it would never do to risk falling out with the Grange. So it was
arranged that Helen should return, and then she and Harold started off
homewards at a rapid pace. It did occur to Helen to ask her father's
permission for this second visit, but when she arrived at home she found
that he was out and not expected back until late in the afternoon. Mrs.
Desmond was still upstairs, and Helen lunched alone, and afterwards, her
head still full of poor Jim, took a few restless turns up and down the
garden walks, and then set out for the village.

Upon the village a sort of afternoon calm seemed to have fallen. The
children were in school, the men at work in the fields, a few of the
women were straw-plaiting and gossiping idly at their doors, and these
stared and whispered one to another as Helen passed them on her way to
the Hunts' cottage. Here all was silent, save that through the open
window overhead a sound of Jim's unintelligible muttering could be heard
occasionally.

"It's you, miss, is it?" said Mrs. Hunt, appearing at last in answer to
Helen's timid knocking; "go up if you like. Nobody can do any good, I'm
afeard. But it's kind of you to come."

Helen made no answer, but climbed the narrow staircase and entered the
sick boy's room. There was no change since her last visit, although she
fancied that Jim's face brightened a little as she went in. Very gently
she attended to his comfort, and she even succeeded in making him
swallow some milk that stood by his bedside. Then he closed his eyes,
and she went and sat down by the window, wondering whether a sense of
human companionship was the comfort to Jim that she fancied it would be
to herself under similar circumstances. Very slowly the afternoon wore
on. Every now and then the sick boy stirred and recommenced his confused
talk. Such strange talk it seemed to Helen to come from dying lips. It
was his work that troubled him. The fowls that would lay away, the cows
that he could not milk, the sheep that would stray. And he was always
late, and father would come home and be angry.

"Poor Jim! perhaps his work is all done. Perhaps no one will ever be
angry with him any more," thought Helen, tears rising to her eyes. Seen
in this light it did occur to her that dying was not such a very sad
thing after all. Here was Jim, whose life had been a hard one, who had
known no pleasures, who was stupid, every one said, and whom no one had
cared for much. That very night, perhaps, he would know more than the
wisest man living; he might be seeing more beautiful things than we can
even picture, and be making the most wonderful discoveries about that
undying love which Cousin Mary had said was always about us from the
moment we were born. And on earth no one would speak his name save
gently, no one would remember that he was plain and silly, but he would
be thought of tenderly, and even those who had not loved him would have
a sigh to give to his memory.

"Was dying so very sad after all?" Helen was still asking herself this
question, when from below there came a sound of merry laughter, and of
trampling childish feet. The children were coming out from school, and
simultaneously the whole village seemed to wake up. Boys shouted and
played; lowing cows were brought in to be milked; the women began their
preparations for the evening meal, and, from their open doorways, called
loudly upon their respective children. Life was there; and here was
death. Poor Jim! never to mingle with his fellows again; never to feel
the warm sun and the soft air; to go away from the cheerful day into the
dark unknown. Yes; it was dreadful, dreadful, and Helen buried her face
in her hands to shut out the sad picture.

Just then she heard a sound of voices below. Mrs. Hunt was talking
volubly, but who was she addressing? Not her husband certainly. Perhaps
it was the doctor. Helen felt a little shamefaced at the idea of being
caught watching beside the sick boy, and she advanced to the door to see
if there was any chance of escape. Then she felt still more perturbed,
for she recognized Mr. Bayden's voice speaking in quick nervous tones.

"Of course, Mrs. Hunt," he was saying, "if I could do the poor lad any
good, I would see him directly. But you say that he knows nobody."

"Well, I can't say that exactly. He seemed to brighten up like when
Master Harold came in this morning. Not that--"

"Master Harold!"

The words were gasped out in quick, agitated accents.

"Yes, sir; why, bless me! I thought you sent him, him and the young lady
from the Grange. They come just as we was sittin' at dinner, and I says
to Hunt, says I, I do take it kind like--"

"Do you mean that Master Harold was here this morning? That he saw
Jim?"

"I do, sir; and the young lady--"

But there was no need for any more of Mrs. Hunt's roundabout statements.
Helen had already guessed from Mr. Bayden's agitated tones that
something was wrong, and she now appeared upon the scene.

"What are you doing here?" cried the clergyman, catching sight of her.

"I--I only came to see Jim, he seemed so lonely," faltered Helen. "I am
very sorry if I did wrong. Please don't blame Harold. It was all my
doing that we came."

"Oh! what have you done! what have you done!" cried Mr. Bayden, wringing
his hands. "Come home with me directly. I must see your father."

"Well, I never!" ejaculated Mrs. Hunt in some indignation; whilst Helen,
still bewildered, prepared to obey.

"My good woman, don't attempt to interfere," said Mr. Bayden testily,
trying to control himself. "Anything that I can do for the poor lad, of
course, as a clergyman, I am prepared to do. But I cannot risk my
children. Here is money. Get anything that is needed for Jim."

"A pretty clergyman!" muttered Mrs. Hunt, looking sullenly at the money
that still lay upon the table, as though half inclined to throw it after
its donor, who was by this time half-way down the village street,
followed by Helen. "Well, it's lucky for him Jim is none o' mine, or I'd
have given him a piece of my mind. A pretty clergyman!"

Mr. Bayden meanwhile, who would have been the last person in the world
to wound Mrs. Hunt's feelings wilfully, and who was quite unconscious
that in his terror and excitement he had omitted to explain to her the
cause of his perturbation at Harold's visit, was half-way across the
fields leading to the Grange before he had sufficiently recovered
himself even to address Helen.

"Am I walking too fast for you?" he said then.

"Oh, no!" answered Helen, who was nearly out of breath with her efforts
to keep up with her companion. "I hope you won't be angry with Harold,"
she added timidly. "I am quite sure my father won't mind my having
gone."

"Not mind your having gone!" repeated Mr. Bayden. "It was a most wicked,
thoughtless act. And to lead Harold into mischief too! My poor Harold!"

"Oh, Mr. Bayden, is anything the matter with Harold?"

Helen's agonized tones touched the clergyman, preoccupied as he was.

"I don't know," he returned more gently. "He ate no lunch, and he
complained of headache this afternoon. It may be nothing."

"But why--why?" began Helen, when, to her joy, she saw her father a
little ahead of them.

"There is father!" she cried joyfully, running after him. Her tale was
nearly told before Mr. Bayden came up to them.

"What has my little girl been doing?" asked the colonel, smiling.
"Interfering with your sick folk? No harm done, I hope."

"I hope not," answered Mr. Bayden tremulously. "But--shall I speak
before her?"

"Run on, Helen," said the colonel. "Now," he went on as Helen obeyed, an
anxious look gathering on his face, "what is it?"

"Just this. I met the doctor this afternoon, and he fears an epidemic in
the village. Jim Hunt is dying, may be dead already. He ought to have
been isolated from the first. But our regular doctor is away, and this
one has no sense. As for that silly Mrs. Hunt--"

"Has the doctor pronounced the disease infectious?" interrupted the
colonel impatiently.

"He doesn't know what to make of it. Two more children in the village
are down with it."

"And our children have been exposed to it?"

Mr. Bayden nodded.

"I am sorry, Bayden," resumed the colonel. "Let us hope that no harm
will come of it. Helen has been thoughtless. I will speak to her. The
less said to anyone else the better. I daresay it would only
unnecessarily alarm your wife. Come in now and have some tea."

"Don't ask me," cried the clergyman, his excitement rising again.
"Harold was not well when I left home. Nothing but duty would have taken
me out. Good-bye, good-bye!"

Mr. Bayden hurried away a good deal annoyed with Colonel Desmond for his
apparent unconcern, and resolved to impart the whole affair to his wife
as soon as possible.

Helen rejoined her father.

"Oh, Helen!" said the latter gravely, "this is a bad business. What
could have induced you to go to the Hunts' cottage, and to take Harold
with you? I am really vexed with you."

"Indeed, father," faltered Helen, "I did not think that I was doing
anything wrong."

"Didn't you know that Jim has a fever. And now Mr. Bayden says that
Harold has taken it."

Helen gave a little cry and buried her face in her hands. She understood
it all now, Mr. Bayden's distress and her father's annoyance. And
Harold? Then her thoughts stopped, they dared not travel further.

"Let this be a lesson to you, Helen," went on the colonel seriously,
still annoyed and a little anxious, although sorry for the child's
evident distress. "You are too heedless. That is at the root of all your
troubles. There, run in now and get yourself cool. We mustn't have you
laid up, and the heat to-day is quite Indian. Cheer up! I daresay Harold
will be well to-morrow."

Thus dismissed, Helen went her way. She was very sad and downcast, and
her old morbid fancies returned in full force. Two days of terrible
suspense followed, during which even Mrs. Desmond remarked upon the
girl's altered looks. On the third day a hurried note from Mrs. Bayden
informed her sister that Harold was dangerously ill, and alluded to his
visit to Jim in Helen's company in terms that there was no mistaking.
Mrs. Desmond's annoyance at the reception of this information was not
lessened by the fact of its having been hitherto kept from her
knowledge. But Helen was too unhappy to suffer greatly from her
stepmother's reproaches, too down-hearted to take comfort even from her
father's assurances that Harold must have taken the fever before his
visit to Jim, as otherwise it would not have declared itself so
speedily.

There was, in fact, no comfort for poor Helen, not even the comfort of
knowing from hour to hour how the sufferer fared. All communication
between the Rectory and the Grange was stopped, and Mrs. Desmond was
making hasty preparations for departure. Helen wandered about, a forlorn
little figure, generally alone, but occasionally accompanied by her
father.

It was upon one of these latter occasions on the very last day of their
stay at the Grange, that the father and daughter, walking sadly through
the lanes, encountered Mr. Bayden. The clergyman tried to pass on, but
the colonel interposed.

"We're not afraid of infection here, Bayden. How is the lad?"

Mr. Bayden shook his head. "He is very, very ill," he answered brokenly.

"Dear me! Such a fine little fellow! He is sure to pull through."

"I dare not hope for it," returned the clergyman; "though I would give
my life for him."

As he spoke he passed on, and the colonel and Helen continued their walk
in sad silence. Colonel Desmond was half surprised at his little girl's
silence. He even thought that she ought to have spoken, and hoped that
she was not growing hard-hearted.

He did not look at her face, or its strained unchildlike expression
might have alarmed him. Neither could he see her when, finding herself
alone in her own room, she sat down and buried her face in her hands,
moaning, "I would give my life for him, my life for him," while tearless
sobs shook her slight frame.

No one thought of Helen through those sad days, no one pitied her. Even
her father was vexed that through her thoughtlessness she had made it
possible for people to say that she was answerable for Harold's illness.
More and more the poor little head puzzled itself over questions that
can find no answer here; but strangest of all it seemed to her to think
of the days when Harold was the Rectory grievance, the bitterest drop in
his mother's cup, and to contrast them with the present, when love was
fighting its bitter battle over him with death.

How miserable Agatha had looked in church last Sunday! Perhaps even
Agatha knew that she loved her brother now. How sad that love and
tenderness should come too late! Was it always so?



CHAPTER VII.

"IF I HAD BUT LOVED HER."


Dearly as Mrs. Desmond loved London and the comforts of her own home,
she had no desire to spend the last days of sultry July in Bloomsbury
Square. The Grange being no longer, in her eyes, a safe abode, the
difficult question now arose where next to go. Long and anxious were the
consultations that took place between husband and wife upon this
subject. At last Colonel Desmond, glancing over the _Times_
advertisement sheet, read of a pleasure steamer which was to start for
the Baltic and St. Petersburg on the 1st of August. An idea struck him.
Mrs. Desmond owned some property in Russia. Would she not like to see
it? The short voyage would be agreeable. They might return by Vienna and
Germany. Should they go? The idea actually found favour in Mrs.
Desmond's eyes. She had had no experience of travelling by sea, and
fancied that a voyage would be pleasant enough. And if they returned by
Germany even the colonel might be brought to see the wisdom of placing
Helen at one of those excellent German schools of which Mrs. Desmond had
been wont to speak scornfully enough in times gone by. She did not
forget that she had done so; but the knowledge that Helen had forced her
to act in a manner contrary to her openly-expressed opinions added to
the bitterness of her feelings towards the girl.

Rather to the colonel's surprise his wife raised no question about
Helen's accompanying them on the projected trip. Longford Grange was
deserted in all haste. Mrs. Desmond declared that the place had not
suited her, and that she was thankful to see the last of it. Neither was
the colonel sorry. Only Helen's heart ached as she drove with her
parents through the village on her way to the station, straining her
eyes to catch a last glimpse of the Rectory, where Harold lay, as they
had just heard, between life and death.

"My poor sister!" sighed Mrs. Desmond, who was in a pleasant mood,
thankful to be getting safely away from the neighbourhood of the fever.
"My poor sister! No doubt she will feel the boy's loss; but, after all,
there will be one less to provide for. And Harold was the most
troublesome of them all. These trials are often blessings in disguise."

"Nonsense!" said the colonel, with a quick glance at Helen. "Harold will
live to trouble them yet. You see if he doesn't. And as for his being
troublesome, it's my belief that parents like the tiresome children
best."

Mrs. Desmond pursed up her thin lips, and glanced at Helen in her turn.

"You speak without knowledge, John," she returned coldly. "To love a
child that is continually paining you is impossible. It is a piece of
modern cant to say that it is. Of course one must do one's _duty_
towards a troublesome child. That is what you mean, I suppose."

The colonel merely shrugged his shoulders and made no reply. He did not
find his wife charming when she took this tone.

"I know some one who is sorry to leave Longford," he said after a pause,
looking kindly at Helen, who, white and silent, sat opposite to her
father.

"Sorry!" began Helen half-stupidly. She was putting a strong restraint
upon herself, for she dreaded showing any feeling before her stepmother.

"Surely Helen must be rather glad than sorry," interposed the latter.
"If I were in her place I should pray that I might never see Longford
again."

Both the colonel and Helen understood Mrs. Desmond's meaning. But
although the former threw himself back with an impatient gesture, while
Helen's lips quivered and her cheeks flushed, they both took refuge in
silence, which remained unbroken until the station was reached.

A fortnight later and the days at Longford seemed almost like a dream to
Helen, so changed were the outward surroundings of her life.

The steamer in which our friends had embarked had reached the landlocked
Baltic. The lingering northern twilight was slowly, reluctantly giving
place to night, such night as northern latitudes know even in late
summer, when a sort of delicate gray veil, through which every object is
distinctly visible, shrouds the earth for a few hours between sunset and
sunrise. These nights possess a poetical charm that almost defies
description, a charm that touches the most unimaginative with a vague
sense of the nearness of an intangible other-world. There is a darkening
and a hush. Nature, weary with the long day, rests; but rests, as it
were, awake, waiting for the quick-coming dawn. Helen, sitting a little
apart from a merry group of fellow-passengers on the steamer's deck, was
under the spell of this wonderful summer's night. There are certain
phases in nature which seem to work upon highly-strung people until they
experience a kind of spiritual quickening, some such quickening as we
imagine may come to us after death. It was this influence that was upon
Helen now. The day had passed pleasantly enough except for one incident.
Mrs. Desmond had not found the voyage come up to her expectations. In
crossing the North Sea she had been horribly sea-sick, and now, although
scarcely a ripple disturbed the surface of the Baltic, she found it hard
to forget her previous sufferings. Upon this day, however, she had
ventured up on deck for the first time. Helen, noticing her stepmother
shivering, had run unasked to fetch her a wrap. Heedlessly catching up
the first she could find, a white fleecy shawl, she ran up the companion
with it in her hand. Just as she reached the top a steward, carrying a
plate of soup, passed her. How it came about Helen scarcely knew, but
the ship lurched, and the contents of the plate were bestowed upon the
delicate white shawl. Mrs. Desmond from her chair watched the scene, and
gave a little cry of dismay as she saw the rich soup dyeing her
favourite shawl.

Tears rushed to Helen's eyes.

"I am very sorry," she stammered, going forward slowly and hanging her
head.

Inwardly Mrs. Desmond felt convinced that Helen had acted from first to
last with the sole purpose of annoying her. A good many people, however,
were sitting and standing near her, and she controlled her anger.

"Why did you fetch the shawl?" she asked coldly.

"I--I thought it would make you more comfortable."

There was a second's pause, during which Mrs. Desmond mentally decided
that Helen was lying deliberately.

"Take the thing away, please," she said at last. "It is utterly ruined.
The very sight of it makes me feel ill."

"What an unlucky little girl it is!" said Colonel Desmond, patting
Helen's shoulder as she turned silently away.

"And what a pity to see such a lovely shawl ruined!" ejaculated a lady
who was sitting next to Mrs. Desmond, and who thought that that lady had
displayed remarkable forbearance.

"What an unlucky little girl!" The words haunted Helen all day. They
rang in her ears persistently. Was she unlucky? Would she always be
unlucky? always doing things that hurt others? Would she never have a
chance of showing that she was not really wicked? that she longed to do
those sweet gracious actions that came so naturally from some people?
Would no one ever love her except her father, whom she was always
disappointing, whose chief trouble and anxiety she was, her stepmother
said?

"I try, I try!" cried Helen to herself; "but I always do the wrong
thing. I am unlucky."

Dusky night came on. No one noticed Helen as she sat alone in her quiet
corner. Mrs. Desmond had retired long ago. Colonel Desmond had gone his
own way, imagining his little girl safely in bed. Gradually the various
groups of passengers dispersed, calling out merry good-nights to one
another. Silence fell, broken only by the faint lapping of the sea
against the ship as she went swiftly through the water.

With wide-open eyes, full of sad questionings, Helen looked out over the
still waters and watched a faint coast-line that showed itself far away
against the horizon. There was no moon visible, only that curious gray
shroud veiled sea and sky, making everything look unreal and ghost-like,
its effect heightened by the peculiar stillness of the sultry
atmosphere.

Intensely wide awake, Helen sat and watched, while every incident in her
short life seemed to pass in review before her. More vividly than any
other, there came back to her the scene in Jim Hunt's dying chamber. She
could almost have fancied that she was sitting once more by the little
open window, listening to the sick boy's rambling talk, while the
children shouted and laughed below.

Then the scene changed. What had happened? Where was the ship and the
gray waters and shadowy, distant land? Had she been dreaming? Where was
she?

In a sick-room, not bare and comfortless like Jim Hunt's, but bright and
cheerful, lit with shaded lamps, and filled with tokens of thoughtful
love. On the bed someone was lying, but from where Helen stood only a
curly head was visible. At a small table by the bedside sat a lady,
busy, apparently, over a gaily-coloured scrap-book. Her back was turned
to Helen, but as the girl advanced timidly she raised her head and said:
"I think I have done enough to-night, Harold. I will put the rest in
to-morrow." "Not to-morrow;" and the little figure in its eagerness
tried, though vainly, to raise itself in bed. "Not to-morrow. Mother,
mother, do finish it to-night."

Helen clasped her hands. This was Harold. She pressed forward and tried
to speak, but no words came. It was all curious, for Mrs. Bayden must
surely see her now, and yet she made no sign. Helen looked at Harold,
but his eyes were closed.

Mrs. Bayden glanced anxiously at Harold and then bent once more over the
scrap-book. Helen stood quite still, gazing at Harold. His beautiful
rounded face had grown pale and pinched, and it was almost difficult to
recognize him, so changed was he. He lay quite still for what seemed to
Helen a long time, but at last he moved and opened his eyes. Then he saw
Helen standing at the foot of his bed, and he sat up and stretched out
his arms to her, his face beaming with joy.

"Helen, Helen!" he cried. "Don't you see her, mother? I am coming.
Helen, wait for me."

As the sound of his voice died away, the vision faded. Helen looked
round, and found herself upon the sea, and heard again the water lapping
against the ship. Only there was a change. The air was cold and charged
with moisture. The distant coast-line had disappeared from sight, and
the delicate gray veil had given place to a thick mist, through which
the pale dawn strove in vain to pierce.

She sat quite still, trying to collect her thoughts. The impression
left upon her by her dream was so vivid that it was at first impossible
to believe that she had been asleep, and even when she succeeded in
persuading herself that this had been the case the conviction remained
that Harold lived, that he was waiting for her, and that they would meet
again. This conviction gave her neither pleasure nor pain, but was so
settled that it would have surprised her more to have seen her father
standing beside her than Harold. She was curiously tranquillized too.
All the vain longings and regrets that had troubled her so sorely of
late were stilled. She felt quite happy and at rest, and regardless of
the rolling mist which seemed to be closing in round the ship, she
curled herself up in her long chair and fell fast asleep.

The child slept soundly, although the mist thickened and increased
rapidly, and the captain, hastily aroused, paced the deck anxiously.
Speed was reduced, all hands were on the alert, and discordant blasts on
the fog-horn disturbed the quiet. Still Helen did not stir, until,
suddenly, from the look-out there came a ringing cry, "Ship ahead!" Then
she started up and saw what looked through the mist like a phantom ship
bearing down upon the doomed vessel on which she stood. Half paralysed
by vague fear, although quite ignorant of the reality of the peril,
Helen remained rooted to the spot, whilst a few minutes of agonizing
suspense ensued, and the captain's voice rang out his orders and each
man went to his post. Then came a crash, a shock, under which the vessel
shuddered like a living thing, and, almost as it seemed the next moment,
the phantom-like ship, her deadly work done, was moving away,
disregarding the affrighted shrieks with which the air was suddenly
filled.

The passengers, rudely awakened, rushed on deck. Cries and shrieks were
soon redoubled, for almost immediately after she was struck the ship
stopped, and it became known that water was pouring into the
engine-room, extinguishing the fires. There followed a few minutes of
indescribable confusion, during which the men held bravely to their
posts, until, once more, and for the last time, the captain's voice rang
out clear and calm from the bridge:

"All hands clear away the boats! Save yourselves! To the boats!"

Instantly there was a rush for the boats, one of which was lashed to the
ship close to where Helen was standing wringing her hands and calling
wildly for her father.

Before the boat could be lowered it was filled, but a ship's officer,
compassionating the lonely, terrified child, was just about to place
Helen in the already heavily-weighted craft, when a woman, who, with a
child in her arms, had just managed to scramble in, started up,
screaming:

"My boy, my boy! He is not here! Save him, oh, save him!"

At sound of her voice a delicate, lame boy, between whom and Helen there
had been a sort of friendship, pressed forward, but was instantly borne
back by the excited crowd.

"Help him, I can manage for myself," said Helen, disengaging herself
from her would-be deliverer's grasp and pointing to the boy.

There was no time for parleying. Crying, "Make way for the women and
children," the officer, fancying that Helen also was safe, thrust the
lame boy over the ship's side, and the over-filled boat moved away.

This half-instinctive act of generosity restored Helen to her presence
of mind. The frantic crowd that had surged round her melted away as the
boat passed out of sight. She rallied her courage and looked around her,
wondering how she could best set about finding her father.

At this period the scene was a terrible one. The vessel was sinking
fast, and already, where Helen stood, the water was almost up to her
knees. Heart-rending cries and pitiful prayers filled the air. Mothers
were calling wildly on their children, husbands on their wives, for the
heavy mist and darkness added to the horror of the scene, making it
difficult for people to distinguish one another.

Obtaining no answer to her repeated cries, Helen determined to advance
cautiously. Clinging to the bulwarks, stumbling at every step, half
drenched with water and benumbed with cold, she scrambled on for some
distance. Once or twice she fancied that she heard her father's voice
calling her, and replying as well as she was able, she struggled on in
the direction from which the sound came. To reach him was her one
absorbing desire. She felt certain that his strong arms would save her,
that he would not let her perish.

Dawn came slowly. The mists lifted, but only to show a wild waste of
water ruffled by a rising wind, and the sea-horses moaning and fretting
round the doomed vessel, as though waiting for their prey. Helen
shivered, and her courage began to fail. The water was rising, and
people were climbing into the rigging.

"Father! father!" she cried wildly; but there was no answer, only a
faint moan that sounded as though it came from someone quite close to
her.

Helen paused. The sound was so pitiful it arrested her attention. She
looked about, and presently she descried a crouched-up figure close
beside her clinging to a hand-rail that had formed part of some steps
leading to the bridge. The girl put out her hand and touched the
recumbent figure.

"Are you hurt?" she asked. "Can I help you?"

Helen felt her hand clutched, and the figure raised itself. Then she
started back, for in the wild, terror-stricken face that met her gaze
she recognized her stepmother.

"Mamma!"

"Helen!"

"Where is my father?"

The words burst from Helen's lips in agonized entreaty.

Mrs. Desmond shook her head.

"I do not know," she answered feebly. "He left me safe, as he thought. I
only went back to fetch a few things that I was trying to preserve, and
that he had taken from me and thrown on the deck. There was plenty of
time, everyone said. And when I returned my place was taken. It was
wicked, cowardly. And I have been alone ever since."

"But my father, my father?" repeated Helen impatiently.

"How can I tell? He went in search of you. It was a terrible risk; I
told him so. You should have been with us."

A pang smote Helen's heart. She had been unlucky again. But for that
profound sleep that had fallen upon her on deck she might easily have
found her father at the first alarm.

"He cannot be far away. He would never forsake us," she said, wrenching
her hand from her stepmother's grasp. "I must find him."

"O, Helen, do not leave me!" moaned Mrs. Desmond, raising herself and
clinging to the girl's drenched skirts, "it is so terrible to be alone,
and I am so weak. If any help came I might be passed over and forgotten.
I cannot scream as some people do. Stay with me, Helen, stay with me."

Helen stood for a moment irresolute. If she remained here she must
abandon all hope of finding her father, almost, it seemed to her, all
hope of life. And the water was always mounting higher. She was not weak
like her stepmother. If no other help was at hand she might climb with
others into the rigging and wait for the aid that must surely come. And
there would be always that chance of finding her father.

"If I find father he will be able to help you," she said, moving away a
little.

"No, no, Helen; you must not leave me," cried Mrs. Desmond; and again
she clutched the girl's hand, those strong young fingers that had
closed so appealingly on hers once, but that were irresponsive now. Did
a recollection of that day, when Helen had appealed to her in vain,
return to Mrs. Desmond? Perhaps so, for there was a real ring of sorrow
in her voice as she said:

"I daresay I have been hard upon you, Helen; but I meant to do my duty
by you. And if at first--"

For once Mrs. Desmond had touched the right chord in Helen's breast.
There was no need for more words. The past flashed back upon the girl's
mind. Here was the chance for which she had longed, and she had been
going to throw it away.

"Of course I will stay with you," she cried impulsively, flinging
herself down beside her stepmother. "Don't be so sad, mamma," she went
on soothingly. "Father is sure to come to us. We shall be saved, I am
sure."

"Do you really think so, Helen?" moaned Mrs. Desmond. "I wish I could
believe it. Couldn't you say a prayer, child? I can't remember one,
although I have always said my prayers, night and morning; and I have
always tried to do my duty--always."

Tenderly supporting her stepmother's head on her poor, drenched lap,
Helen whispered our Lord's prayer, and then Mrs. Desmond wandered on
again, wondering about this and that, and chiefly why such a terrible
crisis should have come into her tranquil life.

"It has been all sorrow and trouble," she said, remembering the troubled
course of the past year. "I couldn't bear you, Helen. You must forgive
me. We must forgive everyone now."

With tears in her eyes Helen gave the required forgiveness. How strange
it all seemed! She and her stepmother alone together, with an awful
death creeping close up to them, and the understanding that would have
sweetened both their lives coming too late. Presently Mrs. Desmond's
mind began to wander. Helen listened to her disjointed talk, soothing
her as well as she was able; raising her voice occasionally to call
imploringly on her father, little dreaming that he, having left his wife
as he believed in safety, and having received an assurance from a ship's
officer that Helen had been placed in the first boat that left the ship,
had provided himself with a life-buoy, and was now battling with the
waves, trusting to the chance of keeping himself afloat and of being
eventually picked up by a passing vessel.

The desire of life was strong in Helen. It was terrible to her to remain
inactive and to watch the water gradually engulfing the ship. Sometimes
she felt almost unable to endure it longer; but at her least movement
Mrs. Desmond would start up, imploring her to remain.

"I would come back," she said once or twice. "I only want to find
another place where we might be a little safer. The water is coming in
upon us so fast."

But Mrs. Desmond was almost past fear itself now, and her only reply was
to cling yet more closely to the lithe young figure by her side; and
Helen could not steel her heart against such an appeal.

Still the ordeal was a terrible one. Awful as the scene had been when
the vessel had first struck, it became more appalling now, as,
gradually, cries were hushed, those few left upon the wreck reserving
all their strength for their fight with death, and the cold dawn showed
still only that vast expanse of gray, seething waters, unbroken by even
a passing sail. Helen's heart sank within her. Must it come, this awful
death? Was there no help anywhere? The strong life within her rebelled
at the thought, and she looked round her, wondering whether her strength
would enable her to drag Mrs. Desmond with her to a place of greater
safety. Still holding her stepmother's hand, she managed to drag herself
to her feet, and as she did so she caught sight of a rude raft, composed
of a few planks hastily fastened together, on which two men were
standing, having apparently just put off from the wreck.

"Help!" she cried.

The raft drifted on and there came no answer. With the courage of
despair she repeated her cry, and the men looked round. Possibly the
sight of the forlorn childish figure standing, as it appeared, utterly
alone on the doomed vessel, touched them, for, notwithstanding the
danger of returning to the fast-submerging wreck, they altered their
course and came within hail.

"You must jump!" shouted one, throwing a rope to Helen, who stood with
both hands outstretched, calling out words of encouragement to Mrs.
Desmond, who still clung to her, and who was too dazed with terror and
exhaustion to understand that help was at hand.

"Quick!" shouted their deliverers. "Pass the rope round you and trust to
it. We can come no nearer."

"Quick!" they cried again as they saw Helen stooping down and adjusting
the rope, not round herself, but round a figure that lay at her feet.

"Courage, mamma, courage!" she said. "Hold fast to the rope! We are
saved, we are saved!"

"Saved!" echoed Mrs. Desmond, clutching feebly at the rope. "Don't leave
me, Helen."

"Come," shouted the men, "there is not a moment to lose."

"Hold fast, dear, hold fast!" said Helen, beginning to attach herself
also to the rope. But it was too late. Crying "Ready?" the men pulled
the rope. With a faint scream Mrs. Desmond disappeared alone into the
swirling water. A minute or two later her dripping, senseless form lay
upon the raft, which was itself almost engulfed immediately afterwards
as, with an awful booming sound, the wreck settled down lower into the
water. A rising wave caught Helen and carried her off her feet. She
caught at some floating wreckage, which supported her for a moment, and
looked round her for the last time. The raft had disappeared from sight.
She was alone.

       *       *       *       *       *

Day broke. The mist melted away as the sun rose sparkling on the water
that, swept by a light wind, danced gaily in the glad morning light. But
of the ship that had moved so gallantly over those same waters only a
few short hours before, no trace remained, save here and there some
floating wreckage. No trace either of the brave little soul whose
perplexities were all over now, who would never be unlucky any more, to
whom death had come gently and tenderly at last, and to whom it had been
given to offer the supremest sacrifice, even its own life, for another.

       *       *       *       *       *

Colonel and Mrs. Desmond were amongst the survivors on that fatal night,
whose terrible events cost the latter a long and painful illness. On her
recovery she burst into tears when Helen's name was mentioned in her
presence for the first time. Whether she was fully conscious of her
stepdaughter's heroic behaviour towards her no one ever exactly knew.
Her husband learnt much of what had passed through her ravings during
her illness, but he dreaded recurring to so painful a subject. Very
sadly, after many months had elapsed, they returned to their home in
Bloomsbury Square, and from that day forward no untoward event occurred
to mar the outward calm of the lives of this middle-aged couple as they
went down into what seemed serene old age; but the colonel's hair
whitened rapidly, and Mrs. Desmond realized too late all that she had
missed.

Spring was in the land once more when Colonel and Mrs. Desmond, aged and
saddened, stood again in sight of Longford Grange. Mrs. Desmond trembled
as she walked, and the colonel took her hand gently and led her towards
the churchyard. There, at the head of a little mound, bright with
spring flowers, a marble cross had been placed. On it was written--

          IN MEMORY OF
             HAROLD,
    Who Died August 10th, 187--.

And below--

    On the same day and about the same hour,

                   HELEN,
     Drowned through the Foundering of the
          "Empress" in the Baltic.

    "_Love is all and death is nought._"

Mrs. Desmond knelt down and kissed the cold stone. "If I had but loved
her," she said.





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