Helena's homesickness had given place to quiet content;
and a keen pleasure in her new duties was fast taking possession of her,
which Madame Scranton noticed with satisfaction, and reported to Mrs. Maxon.
"I dread vacation week," she said to her room-mate, one
evening as they sat over their examination papers. "I was so lonely during
the holidays while you were gone--I cried myself to sleep every night,
and it will be just as hard this vacation. It seems a long time until next
June, but I know my parents do not feel like affording the expense of my
journey home before then."
"I wish you might go home with me," suggested Dolores,
looking up suddenly from her books. "Can't you? it is only a short distance--and
I would gladly take you myself. It is rather a gloomy house, you will find,
with just uncle and his books, and servants, but it would be a change for
you at least. I know how dreary it is here in vacation; I tried it once,
when uncle was away from home. Will you go with me, Lena?"
"You are so kind to ask me, and I think it would be delightful,"
Helena answered, her face beaming at the thought. "I will write to Mamma
about it to-night. I am sure she will give her consent, for I have told
her so much about you--how good and kind you are, and how fond I am of
you ;" and Helena drew her companion's face down with both hands and kissed
her. Dolores received the salutation with a smile, but did not return it.
"Do you know, Dolores," said Helena, "that little smile
of yours means just the same to me now, as a kiss? At first, when I used
to caress you, your lack of responses chilled me; yet I was so. fond of
you, and you are so lovely, I could not refrain from demonstrations of
affection. I must have some one to pet; it is a necessity with me; and
now that faint little smile you give me, seems just the same as a kiss
would seem from any other girl."
"I am glad it does--it means the same," Dolores replied.
"I am very undemonstrative by nature. You are positively the only person,
Lena, by whom I could endure to be caressed. I do not remember that
I ever voluntarily kissed any one in my life. I could
never see any meaning or sense in it; but it seems all right coming
from you. Only I am glad you do not demand a res-ponse from me."
"But surely you kiss your uncle sometimes ?" Helena queried.
"No, never. His nature and mine are similar in that respect.
You will think him cold, and severe, but he has had some bitter sorrows
in his life, and it is no wonder if they have frozen his heart's blood.
Yet he is very kind to me, and he has taught me much, and told me many
things, which I might otherwise have had to learn as he did--by cruel experience.
But come, dear, we must finish our examination papers, and you must write
that letter to your mother. I think I will enclose a note, begging her
to grant me the favor of your company, and promising to take the best of
care of you."
Both letters were accordingly written and an affirmative
reply to the request was received by the delighted girls before the school
Helena packed her trunk with all a young girl's eager
anticipation of a new experience. Madame Scranton and a small body-guard
of teachers and pupils accompanied the young ladies to the depot, and saw
them safely seated in the car which would, in a few hours, bring them to
They were met at the station by a colored serving man,
whom Dolores addressed as Daniel, and who informed her that "Master Laurence
was well nigh sick : did not seem to have no appetite and couldn't sleep."
"Why was I not written to? Why was I not sent for, if
Uncle is ill?" cried Dolores, with so much distress in her face, that Helena,
accustomed to the usual calm of her friends' demeanor, looked upon her
Daniel's assurance that his master was not sick, "only
ailin'," did not remove the cloud from Dolores' face until they reached
the mansion, which seemed to Helena, filled with a "well-bred gloom," as
she afterwards expressed it.
As a garment becomes impregnated with the odors of the
body, so the atmosphere of a house becomes saturated with the essence or
the spiritual nature of its inhabitants. In Helena Maxon's own home, humble
and modest though it was, who ever crossed its threshold felt the rush
of a vitalized current of love and good cheer, like a soft breeze about
And with her peculiarly sensitive nature she felt, like
a finely organized human barometer, the cold and chilling atmosphere of
this mansion : and her spiritual mercury ran down to the zeros.
A tall, grave man, with a clear-cut, beardless face and
steel gray eyes, met them in the hall, "Welcome home, young ladies," he
said, while the phantom of a smile played over his pale features, as a
winter sunbeam falls on a marble statue. "I am glad to see you both. Dolores,
child, you look pale; are you ill?"
He took her hand, as he had taken Helena's, and he offered
no more affectionate greeting, nor did Dolores.
"No--I am well," she said, " only Daniel frightened me
: he said you were very unwell. You should have sent for me, Uncle,
"It was not necessary, child," replied her uncle, as he
led them down the long hall and stood aside to let them pass up the broad
stairway. "I have only been indisposed, as I always am in the Spring, you
know. Why should I take you from your studies because my liver is refractory?
But hasten, now, young ladies. You have only time to make your toilet before
dinner is served."
"I heard two robins chirping in a bare tree this morning,"
Mr. Laurence said, as the young ladies took their places at the table a
little later." That and your youthful voices in the lonely old hall just
now, convinced me of the near approach of Springtime. Happy birds, and
happy girls, I said. I wonder what the brief summer of life holds for you?
"What is your dream of the future, Miss Maxon?"
Finding this perplexing question addressed to her so suddenly,
by an utter stranger, whose demeanor gave her a peculiar sensation of awe,
Helena blushed, and hesitated for a reply.
"I think I can answer for you," continued her host, without
waiting for her to find voice.
"It is a dream of pleasant duties, of culture and travel,
of realized ambitions and labors rewarded, but all merging in the supreme
hope of the unwise young heart-love and marriage; am I not right?"
For a moment, Helena remained iu abashed silence, the
flush deepening upon her cheek. Then she lifted her soft dark eyes fearlessly
to the old man's face, as she answered him :
"I have never thought very seriously about my future,"
she said. "I am young to make plans. But whatever else it holds for me,
I think it would be more complete at last to be crowned with love and marriage,
if the love were true love and the marriage a happy one."
Mr. Laurence shook his head as he murmured: "Ah! ah! poor
child--poor foolish child! Better give up this thought at once. There is
no true love between man and woman; there are no happy marriages; it is
all a dream--a dream--and the awakening is cruel. Better put it all out
of your mind now, child, before it is too late. Build your castle without
the frail tower of love, else it will topple to the ground and carry the
whole structure with it."
"But surely you would not have me think there is no such
thing as true love in the world?" cried Helena, in wondering and pained
"There is no true and enduring love, no grand eternal
passion between the sexes. There is a possibility--yet that even is rare--of
a lasting platonic affection--of a kind, unselfish friendship. But it is
a mockery and blasphemy for two human beings to stand at the altar and
in the name of God bind themselves to be true to a sentiment which cannot
last--which never lasts. One or both must change, both must suffer
from the unholy bondage. Women are fickle, and men are base.
I would rather see Dolores, my only human tie, laid in her grave, than
led to the marriage altar. No, no, child; listen to an old
man who has seen much of the world, and let no thought of marriage ever
enter your life plans."
Mr. Laurence's face was very pale, and his voice trembled
with the excitement which this subject always produced. Dolores saw that
he was in a highly nervous state, and adroitly changed the conversation
by requesting Helena to come into the music room and sing for them.
She possessed a voice of remarkable beauty and sweetness--a
voice which already was beginning to develop into wonderful flexibility
and power, under the vocal training she received at the Academy.
Like most of Orpheus' devotees, Helena was much more absorbed
in the music than in the words of her songs; and so, quite unconsciously
she illustrated the old man's theory of the ephemeral nature of love, in
her selection of this song, which was set to a brilliant air and accompaniment.
A little leaf just in the forest's edge,
All summer long, had listened to the wooing
Of amorous birds that flew across the hedge,
Singing their blithe sweet songs for her undoing.
So many were the flattering things they told her,
The parent tree seemed quite too small to hold her.
At last one lonesome day she saw them fly
Across the fields behind the coquette summer,
They passed her with a laughing light good-by,
When from the north, there strode a strange new comer;
Bold was his mein, as he gazed on her, crying,
"How comes it, then, that thou art left here sighing!"
"Now by my faith thou art a lovely leaf--
May I not kiss that cheek so fair and tender?"
Her slighted heart welled full of bitter grief,
The rudeness of his words did not offend her.
She felt so sad, so desolate, so deserted,
Oh, if her lonely fate might be averted.
"One little kiss," he sighed, " I ask no more--"
His face was cold, his lips too pale for passion.
She smiled assent; and then bold Frost leaned lower,
And clasped her close, and kissed in lover's fashion.
Her smooth cheek flushed to sudden guilty splendor,
Another kiss, and then complete surrender.
Just for a day she was a beauteous sight,
The world looked on to pity and admire
This modest little leaf, that in a night
Had seemed to set the forest all on fire.
And then--this victim of a broken trust
A withered thing, was trodden in the dust.
Mr. Laurence sat silent as if buried in deep thought, while
she sang a few songs, and then, excusing himself on a plea of indisposition,
retired to his room.
"It is useless for Uncle to tell me he is not ill," Dolores
remarked, after he had left them alone, "for I notice a great change in
him since I last saw him. He looks years older, and he is in a state of
great nervousness. I am alarmed about him."
"He is a strange man, is he not?" mused Helena, "but I
can not help thinking he would be happier and healthier if he did not live
alone. If he had married when young, and was now surrounded by a nice family,
how different all his ideas would be. Papa says a bachelor's blood turns
to vinegar because he has no one to sweeten life for him."
"But Uncle Laurence is not a bachelor," Dolores said.
"He married a very beautiful girl when he was quite young."
"Indeed! then he is a widower? And it was the loss of
her, that made him so bitter! But I think it is lovely that he has been
true to her memory. There is just romance enough about it to please me."
"No, no!" interrupted Dolores, hastily, "you do not understand.
He married her and worshiped her, with a young man's first poetic passion;
they lived together two years, and then--and then, Lena, she ran off and
left him, and he has never been the same man since."
"Ran off and left him!" echoed Helena in shocked amazement,
"why, was she homesick--or was he unkind to her? And did her parents take
"No, she did not go home. She was--oh, Lena dear, you
are too innocent to understand how wicked the world is. I know all about
it, because Uncle has told me; he thinks it better for me to be forwarned
since I may be left alone to defend myself. Lena, his wife was faithless,
and his nearest friend false, and two homes were disgraced forever."
"Oh!" was Helena's only response. She was puzzled and
pained to find the world not all like the sweet and holy atmosphere of
her own home. But she felt sure that Mr. Laurence's life was a great exception
to the rule, which must be peace, harmony and purity in the domestic relations.
As the two girls stood in the pale blue bower which was
Dolores's apartment, disrobing for the night, Helena noticed a photograph
album lying near at hand. "May I look at the pictures?" she asked, and
as she turned the leaves, she uttered an exclamation of delight as her
eyes fell on the photograph of a beautiful child, a boy seemingly four
or five years old.
"Oh, Dolores, what a cherub! who is this?" she asked.
" He is a perfect beauty--and he has your lovely mouth too--is he a relative?"
Dolores leaned over her shoulder and looked at the portrait.
"That? Oh, that is my father's little boy," she said indifferently.
"The picture was sent me from California several years ago."
"But I thought you told me you had no brothers or sisters,"
said Helena, with a puzzled look.
Dolores ran her slender fingers through her silken hair,
shaking it down about her like a golden halo.
"Well, I have none," she replied. "I am my mother's only
child. He is my father's child, and one is not very much related to one's
father any way, you know--and surely not at all to his children by another
"Why, Dolores King!" cried Helena, now thoroughly shocked.
"What strange things you are saying! Not related to ones father? Why, it
is just as near and sacred a relation as that of a mother."
"Oh, no! child," interrupted Dolores. "Just think what
a mother suffers for us, endures for us, goes through for us, from first
to last. From the moment we begin to exist, until we can walk alone, we
are a physical drain upon our mothers : while our fathers walk free and
untrammeled, with only perhaps (and perhaps not even that) the thought
of our maintenance to remind them that we have claims upon them. It is
only a matter of association and personal pride, which endears most children
to their fathers, while their mothers love them naturally. I have never
lived with my father, since I was a small infant. I was placed in the care
of a nurse, after my mother died, and then my father married again very
soon, and my uncle took me home. I am sure my father has no affection for
me, and I have none for him. I have seen him but a few times in my life,
and I found him in no way attractive to me--and then I always remember
how unhappy my mother's brief life was with him, and that makes me almost
hate him. So, I am glad we do not meet oftener."
"Oh, Dolores," sighed Helena, looking at her beautiful
companion with eyes of absolute compassion, "I think it is terrible for
you to feel like this towards your own father. I cannot understand it."
"Well," confessed Dolores, pausing in the tasks of brushing
her hair, and looking, in her dainty white robes, as Aphrodite clothed
in mist might have looked had she risen from the sea with an ivory hair
brush in her hand; "well, sometimes I cannot understand it either. But
I once saw a girl with a queer mark on her brow, like the gash of a dagger;
and I was told that it was caused by her father being struck down by a
robber, right before her mother's eyes. And when I read my mother's diary,
kept during her one year of married life, I think may be I was marked mentally,
just that way. I suppose such a thing is possible; and I can no more help
my feelings than the girl could help having the mark on her brow."
Dolores had struck a deeper truth than she imagined. But
Helena's mind was not able to grasp it. She only felt that her friend was
more and more of an enigma, and crept into bed with her brain in a state
of chaotic confusion, bordering upon fear.