A STORY AND A REVELATION.
PERCY found himself so ill the next morning, that he was
obliged to send for his physician, Dr. Sydney. Ever since his return from
South America, he had been losing strength and flesh, and a dull ache in
his side, and darting pains throughout his entire body had rendered his
nights restless, and his days full of lassitude. His physician had answered
him that it was a "touch of malaria, contracted in the beastly climate
of South America," and Percy had relied on quinine and time to effect a
(We all know how customary it is in these days for physicians
to designate any puzzling ailment by the convenient and indefinable term
But this morning, when Dr. Sydney was called to his patient,
he decided that something more serious, and tangible than a touch of malaria
Percy had been suffering from a hard chill during the
night, which was now succeeded by a high fever, and acute pain in his side.
He was sitting in his chair by the window--dressed as if to go out.
"My dear fellow, this will never do!" Dr. Sydney cried.
"You are on the eve of a serious sickness, I fear, and you must be put
to bed, and place yourself under treatment."
"Pshaw--nothing of the kind!" Percy answered. "I have
taken cold, and beside, I am worn out with worry over some matters. That
"H'm! then why did you send for me, if you know so much
better about it than I do!" growled the old physician.
"Simply, because I want you to brace me up, and get me
in condition to take a short trip on business this afternoon."
"A trip, business!" echoed Dr. Sydney, gazing at Percy
over his spectacles. "Why, if you are not insane you will at once
give up that idea. You will not be fit to leave your room under a week,
if you do in that time : and you must have a good nurse, and keep perfectly
quiet until you are out of this."
"But I tell you, I must attend to some important
business out of town to-day!" Percy answered, stubbornly. "It is the worry
and anxiety over the matter which has caused my illness, mainly. And I
want you to give me a tonic, or a stimulant, or something that will carry
me through the day. Then, if to-morrow I find myself no better, I will
promise to go to bed and follow your advice. For I want to get in condition
to go abroad very soon."
Finding his patient incorrigible, Dr. Sydney grimly prepared
some medicine for him to take during the forenoon, and left him with a
last injunction to be very careful of himself if he desired to escape a
long siege of illness.
"But he can't escape it. It is coming, unless I greatly
mistake symptoms!" he muttered, as he went out.
Percy remained in his room until the afternoon, then he
set forth upon a visit to Centerville; and in the excitement of the hour,
and under the stimulating effect of Dr. Sydney's tonic, he felt himself
wonderfully improved as he walked up the village street.
He went directly to Helena. He had resolved to tell her
the whole story, and abide by her decision of what was right for him to
"She has no actual knowledge of the world," he said to
himself; "but she is endowed with divine wisdom, broad sympathies, and
a natural understanding of the human heart. She is my best adviser."
She held out her hand to him, when she came into the room,
saying : "This is an unexpected pleasure, Mr. Durand."
But he did not take the proffered hand. He only answered
: "Wait. I came here to make a confession to you, and to ask your advice.
Perhaps, after you have heard my story, you will not want to clasp my hand."
She looked up at him, startled, wondering.
"Surely you have not committed murder!" she said. "You
do not resemble an assassin, Mr. Durand."
"There are different degrees of murder," he replied, "and
I think to murder a human heart is the cruelest of all."
"Have you done that willfully?" she asked, lifting her
sombre eyes to his face. "Then, indeed, I will not offer you my hand in
"No, no!" he added hastily, "not willfully, but thoughtlessly!
and thoughtlessness is the consort of selfishness, and the two are parents
of crime. But now listen to my story, Miss Maxon. I will be brief."
"My father died when I was but a child, and left me the
only heir to an independent fortune. I grew into early manhood with this
knowledge--a sad knowledge for any youth, because it leaves him with the
consciousness that he need not exert his own powers of brain or muscle
to make a name and place in Society. My mother died when I was fifteen--just
at the time I most needed her gentle counsels, and refining influence.
I was selfish, proud, passionate, strong-willed. But I tried to make a
man of myself for the sake of my mother's memory. I believed all women
were saints, because she was one. At twenty I met a beautiful
woman, two or three years my senior. She possessed a magnificent
form, and a face of wonderful brunette beauty. Every man in my circle was
raving over her, and I became madly infatuated. I asked her to be
my wife and she consented. I reveled in dreams of a home--something I had
not known since my mother died. A few days before the time set for
our wedding, I discovered that the woman I worshiped was making
sport of me, and that she had promised to be my wife only to secure my
fortune. More shocking still, she was carrying on the most flagrant
infidelities, which were the talk of the club-rooms, while I, poor dupe,
only discovered the horrible truth at the last hour. I was but a
youth, and this experience nearly wrecked my life.
"I lost faith in every thing, human and divine, for a
time. As years passed my wound healed, but all my views of life were changed.
I looked upon women as vain, frivolous and deceitful, and whatever amusement
they could afford me, I considered myself justified in taking. Marriage
seemed to me a bondage, and love a dream sure to end in misery : a dream
which could never disturb my heart again.
"After years of travel, adventure and folly, when a wearisome
ennui toward the whole world had taken possession of me, I met a lovely
"She also abhorred marriage, and had sworn eternal warfare
against it. She was more pronounced and bitter in her denunciations of
the social system than I. She was a charming companion; but I felt that
the association was dangerous, and tried to fly from it. A perverse fate,
however, constantly threw us together. Finally, she was left entirely alone
in the world. In an evil hour, when she was weeping because her life was
so desolate, I asked her to decide between the society she despised, and
my companionship and protection."
He paused. It was hard to go on with those truthful, earnest,
pure eyes gazing at him. How could he make her understand?
"Well--and what was her answer?" Helena asked, almost
in a whisper.
"She has been living in pleasant apartments in New York,
as my friend and comrade, for almost two years. Do you understand?"
"I understand," she answered, and a sudden chill shook
her from head to foot.
"We were very happy for a year--for longer," he went on,
hurriedly. "She was perfectly happy, because she believed she was doing
right. I was not as happy as I had expected to be. My conscience seemed
often to cry out, after years of silence; but I would not listen to it.
We passed many delightful hours together, and I was always proud to think
my friend was a beautiful, refined and true woman. I congratulated myself,
that at least, I had shown better taste in the selection of my companion,
than many of my friends who were similarly situated. The lady was independently
wealthy, and our association was prompted by congenial tastes and affection.
"Then I met you. Your voice woke all the higher impulses
of my nature : your conversation lifted me into a strangely ratified atmosphere;
I abhorred my old life from the hour I met you. I have tried to break away
from it, but I cannot without crushing a human heart. Unfortunately, my
friend has passed through no such change of feeling. She is happy, and
she loves me. To leave her alone, to desert her, seems heartless and cruel.
The way of escape is hedged about with unforeseen difficulties. I am tortured
from within and without. Surely the way of the transgressor is hard.
I would reform my life, if I knew how. Can you tell me what is right to
do under the circumstances?"
She was very pale. Her hands were clasped tightly before
her. Her breath came hard. "There is one way--only one," she said. "I wonder
it has not suggested itself to you. Make the tie that binds you to your
friend a legal one. Make her your wife, and let the future atone for the
He started to his feet as if she had struck him.
"It is impossible!" he said. "She would never consent.
It is opposed to all her theories."
Helena looked at him coldly, a dumb pain in her face.
"I fear you can not understand our very peculiar situation,"
he went on. "But you must believe I am telling you the whole truth,
I am not misstating one thing. There has been no effort at misleading this
woman—this friend of mine. There never was any talk of marriage between
us, save to condemn it. She often said she liked me first, because I did
not endeavor to convert her from her pet theories, as many men had done.
She is very beautiful, and has been annoyed by many suitors. But she is
almost a monomaniac upon the subject. You would, find less to condemn in
my course, if you could understand how peculiar and deep-rooted were her
"I do understand," Helena answered. "I once knew
just such a person as you describe. We were school-mates, and she shocked
us all on graduating day, by an anti-marriage address. So I can understand
the type of woman you describe. Yet these views of hers did not necessitate
the grave course of action you suggested to her later on, surely."
Percy flushed. "No," he said, "that was the result of
our dangerous companionship, and my selfishness. I could not continue in
the platonic association so satisfactory to her, and I could not give her
up easily, and so the great mistake was made. The error of a lifetime is
often committed in a moment, you know. And now--
''And now," Helena continued, calmly, with white lips
as he paused, "now the right course of action for you seems very clearly
defined. You can at least tell her of your changed ideas, and offer her
marriage. If she declines, you are justified in leaving her. She has no
right to compel you to live an unprincipled life. But she will not decline
your offer. Even Heloise yielded her opinions and liberal theories to the
request of Ablerard, and became his wife, you know."
Percy had been walking the room excitedly while she spoke.
As she ceased, he turned, and stood facing her with his arms folded.
"There is one more thing to tell you," he said. "Something
which renders the advice you give impossible for me to follow. I love another
woman with all the fervor of my soul, with all the strength of my heart.
Love her with a love that lifts me up to the very gates of heaven, and
purifies my whole nature like a refining fire. I see her face, waking or
sleeping. I hear her voice in the silence of the night, and above the roar
of the street, by day. It is a love which only comes to one man in a thousand,
because only one woman in a million can inspire it. This love is at once
an agony and a rapture. It asks, it expects no return. It fills my life
full here, and it will pervade eternity for me when I die. But, loving
like this, even though hopelessly, it would be sacrilege to ask any other
woman to be by wife. Even to right a wrong, one should not commit a greater
wrong--that of sinning against the holiest and most sacred emotion which
ever entered a human heart."
While he spoke, Helena had grown crimson from brow to
chin. Then she turned deathly pale, and, burying her face in her hands,
she sank into a chair, sobbing wildly.
When he had told her the story of his life, she had wondered
at the terrible pain it gave her to listen. But she had believed
it was the disappointment she felt in finding her ideal friend so earthly.
This together with her sympathy for the unknown woman. Now, as she listened
to his strangely impassioned words, there came to her a revelation
that she had given him all the pent-up passion of her soul, all the pure
love of her woman's heart. And to what end? The knowledge startled,
shocked and terrified her, and she sobbed like a frightened child.
Percy was unmanned at the sight of her tears, yet this
unexpected outburst filled him with sudden hope. After all, this divine
being, this goddess did love him. He forgot everything, save that
"Helena!" he cried, kneeling before her, and striving
to uncover her face--"my darling, my queen--look at me--speak to me."
She pushed him from her, and rose hurriedly.
"Oh!" she sobbed, "you are cruel. Do you want to break
two hearts!" Then, as if alarmed at her own words, she added quickly,
"You must go away now and leave me. I am all unnerved--I can not give you
any more advice to-day. Please go." But as he turned to obey her, she called
"One word only I would say to you now. Do not tell--your
friend, what you have told me. Do not tell her that you love another woman.
It will be hard enough for her to know that you are to go out of her life,
without having that bitter knowledge added."
"God bless you!" he cried, his eyes full of tears. "You
are the most generous woman I ever dreamed of in my wildest visions of
what was noble."
Even in the supreme hour of her own new found misery--a
misery so vast it seemed to fill the whole earth--Helena thought of her
rival and tried to save her pain. Truly had Percy said she was one woman
in a million.