By UPTON SINCLAIR
I dreamed that Soul might dare the pain, Unlike the prince of old, And wrest from heaven the fiery touch That turns all things to gold.
New York and London
In the course of this story, the author has had occasion to refer to Beethoven's Sonata Appassionata as containing a suggestion of the opening theme of the Fifth Symphony. He has often seen this stated, and believed that the statement was generally accepted as true. Since writing, however, he has heard the opinion expressed, by a musician who is qualified to speak as an authority, that the two themes have nothing to do with each other. The author himself is not competent to have an opinion on the subject, but because the statement as first made is closely bound up with the story, he has allowed it to stand unaltered.
The two extracts from MacDowell's "Woodland Sketches," on pages 214 and 291, are reprinted with the kind permission of Professor MacDowell and of Arthur P. Schmidt, publisher.
In the merry month of May.
"O Madchen, Madchen, Wie lieb' ich dich!"
It was that time of year when all the world belongs to poets, for their harvest of joy; when those who seek the country not for beauty, but for coolness, have as yet thought nothing about it, and when those who dwell in it all the time are too busy planting for another harvest to have any thought of poets; so that the latter, and the few others who keep something in their hearts to chime with the great spring-music, have the woods and waters all for their own for two joyful months, from the time that the first snowy bloodroot has blossomed, until the wild rose has faded and nature has no more to say. In those two months there are two weeks, the ones that usher in the May, that bear the prize of all the year for glory; the commonest trees wear green and silver then that would outshine a coronation robe, and if a man has any of that prodigality of spirit which makes imagination, he may hear the song of all the world.
It was on such a May morning in the midst of a great forest of pine trees, one of those forests whose floors are moss-covered ruins that give to them the solemnity of age and demand humility from those who walk within their silences. There was not much there to tell of the springtime, for the pines are unsympathetic, but it seemed as if all the more wealth had been flung about on the carpeting beneath. Where the moss was not were flowing beds of fern, and the ground was dotted with slender harebells and the dusty, half-blossomed corydalis, while from all the rocks the bright red lanterns of the columbine were dangling.
Of the beauty so wonderfully squandered there was but one witness, a young man who was walking slowly along, stepping as it seemed where there were no flowers; and who, whenever he stopped to gaze at a group of them, left them unmolested in their happiness. He was tall and slenderly built, with a pale face shadowed by dark hair; he was clad in black, and carried in one hand a half-open book, which, however, he seemed to have forgotten.
A short distance ahead was a path, scarcely marked except where the half-rotted trees were trodden through. Down this the young man turned, and a while later, as his ear was caught by the sound of falling water, he quickened his steps a trifle, until he came to a little streamlet which flowed through the forest, taking for its bed the fairest spot in that wonderland of beauty. It fled from rock to rock covered with the brightest of bright green moss and with tender fern that was but half uncurled, and it flashed in the sunlit places and tinkled from the deep black shadows, ever racing faster as if to see what more the forest had to show. The young man's look had been anxious before, but he brightened in spite of himself in the company of the streamlet.
Not far beyond was a place where a tiny rill flowed down from the high rocks above, and where the path broadened out considerably. It was a darkly shadowed spot, and the little rill was gathered in a sunken barrel, which the genius of the place had made haste to cover with the green uniform worn by all else that was to be seen. Beside the spring thus formed the young man seated himself, and after glancing impatiently at his watch, turned his gaze upon the beauty that was about him. Upon the neighboring rocks the columbine and harebell held high revel, but he did not notice them so much as a new sight that flashed upon his eye; for the pool where the two streamlets joined was like a nest which the marsh-marigold had taken for its home. The water was covered with its bright green and yellow, and the young man gazed at the blossoms with eager delight, until finally he knelt and plucked a few of them, which he laid, cool and gleaming, upon the seat by the spring.
The flowers did not hold his attention very long, however; he rose up and turned away towards where, a few steps beyond, the open country could be seen between the tree trunks. Beyond the edge of the woods was a field, through which the footpath and the streamlet both ran, the former to join a road leading to a little town which lay in the distance. The landscape was beautiful in its morning freshness, but it was not that which the young man thought of; he had given but one glance before he started back with a slight exclamation, his face turning paler. He stepped into the concealment of the thick bushes at one side, where he stood gazing out, motionless except for a slight trembling. Down the road he had seen a white-clad figure just coming out of the village; it was too far away to be recognized, but it was a young girl, walking with a quick and springing step, and he seemed to know who it was.
She had not gone very far before she came to a thick hedge which lined the roadside and hid her from the other's view; he could not see her again until she came to the place where the streamlet was crossed by a bridge, and where the little path turned off towards the forest. In the meantime he stood waiting anxiously; for when she reached there he would see her plainly for the first time, and also know if she were coming to the spring. She must have stopped to look at something, for the other had almost started from his hiding place in his eagerness when finally she swept past the bushes. She turned down the path straight towards him, and he clasped his hands together in delight as he gazed at her.
And truly she was a very vision of the springtime, as she passed down the meadows that were gleaming with their first sprinkling of buttercups. She was clad in a dress of snowy white, which the wind swept before her as she walked; and it had stolen one strand of her golden hair to toss about and play with. She came with all the eagerness and spring of the brooklet that danced beside her, her cheeks glowing with health and filled with the laughter of the morning. Surely, of all the flowers of the May-time there is none so fair as the maiden. And the young man thought as he stood watching her that in all the world there was no maiden so fair as this.
She did not see him, for her eyes were lifted to a little bobolink that had come flying down the wind. One does not hear the bobolink at his best unless one goes to hear him; for sheer glorified happiness there is in all our land no bird like him at the hour of sunrise, when he is drunk with the morning breeze and the sight of the dew-filled roses. At present a shower had just passed and the bobolink may have thought that another dawn had come; or perhaps he saw the maiden. At any rate, he perched himself upon the topmost leaf of the maple tree, still half-flying, as if scorning even that much support; and there he sang his song. First he gave his long prelude that one does not often hear—a few notes a score of times repeated, and growing swift and loud, and more and more strenuous and insistent; as sometimes the orchestra builds up its climax, so that the listener holds his breath and waits for something, he knows not what. Then he paused a moment and turned his head to see if the girl were watching, and filled his throat and poured out his wonderful gushing music, with its watery and bell-like tone that only the streamlet can echo, from its secret places underneath the banks. Again and again he gave it forth, the white patches on his wings flashing in the sunlight and both himself and his song one thrill of joy.
The girl's face was lit up with delight as she tripped down the meadow path. A gust of wind came up behind her, and bowed the grass and the flowers before her and swung the bird upon the tree; and so light was the girl's step that it seemed to lift her and sweep her onward. As it grew stronger she stretched out her arms to it and half leaned upon it and flung her head back for the very fullness of her happiness. The wind tossed her skirts about her, and stole another tress of hair, and swung the lily which she had plucked and which she carried in her hand. It is only when one has heard much music that he understands the morning wind, and knows that it is a living thing about which he can say such things as that; one needs only to train his ear and he can hear its footsteps upon the meadows, and hear it calling to him from the tops of the trees.
The girl was the very spirit of the wind at that moment, and she seemed to feel that some music was needed. She glanced up again at the bobolink, who had ceased his song; she nodded to him once as if for a challenge, and then, still leaning back upon the breeze, and keeping time with the flower in her hand, she broke out into a happy song:
"I heard a streamlet gushing From out its rocky bed, Far down the valley rushing, So fresh and clear it sped."
But then, as if even Schubert were not equal to the fullness of her heart, or because the language of joy has no words, she left the song unfinished and swept on in a wild carol that rose and swelled and made the forest echo. The bobolink listened and then flew on to listen again, while still the girl poured out her breathless music, a mad volley of soaring melody; it seemed fairly to lift her from her feet, and she was half dancing as she went. There came another gust of wind and took her in its arms; and the streamlet fled before her; and thus the three, in one wild burst of happiness, swept into the woodland together.
There in its shadows the girl stopped short, her song cut in half by the sight of the old forest in its majesty. One could not have imagined a greater contrast than the darkness and silence which dwelt beneath the vast canopy, and she gazed about her in rapture, first at the trees and then at the royal carpet of green, starred with its fields of flowers. Her breast heaved, and she stretched out her arms as if she would have clasped it all to her.
"Oh, it is so beautiful!" she cried aloud. "It is so beautiful!"
In the meantime the young man, still unseen, had been standing in the shadow of the bushes, drinking in the sight. The landscape and the figure and the song had all faded from his thoughts, or rather blended themselves as a halo about one thing, the face of this girl. For it was one of those faces that a man may see once in a lifetime and keep as a haunting memory ever afterwards, as a vision of the sweetness and glory of woman; at this moment it was a face transfigured with rapture, and the man who was gazing upon it was trembling, and scarcely aware of where he was.
For fully a minute more the girl stood motionless, gazing about at the forest; then she chanced to look towards the spring, where she saw the flowers upon the seat.
"Why, someone has left a nosegay!" she exclaimed, as she started forward; but that seemed to suggest another thought to her, and she looked around. As she did so she caught sight of the young man and sprang towards him. "Why, Arthur! You here!" she cried.
The other started forward as if he would have clasped her in his arms; but then recollecting himself he came forward very slowly, half lowering his eyes before the girl's beauty.
"So you recollect me, Helen, do you?" he said, in a low voice.
"Recollect you?" was the answer. "Why, you dear, foolish boy, of course I recollect you. But how in the world do you come to be here?"
"I came here to see you, Helen."
"To see me?" exclaimed she. "But pray how—" and then she stopped, and a look of delight swept across her face. "You mean that you knew I would come here the first thing?"
"I do indeed."
"Why, that was beautiful!" she exclaimed. "I am so glad I did come."
The glance which she gave made his heart leap up; for a moment or two they were silent, looking at each other, and then suddenly another thought struck the girl. "Arthur," she cried, "I forgot! Do you mean to tell me that you have come all the way from Hilltown?"
"And just to see me?"
"And this morning?"
She received the same answer again. "It is twelve miles," she exclaimed; "who ever heard of such a thing? You must be tired to death."
She put out her hand, which he took tremblingly.
"Let us go sit down on the bench," she said, "and then we can talk about things. I am perfectly delighted that you came," she added when she had seated herself, with the marigolds and the lily in her lap. "It will seem just like old times; just think how long ago it was that I saw you last, Arthur,—three whole years! And do you know, as I left the town I thought of you, and that I might find you here."
The young man's face flushed with pleasure.
"But I'd forgotten you since!" went on the girl, eyeing him mischievously; "for oh, I was so happy, coming down the old, old path, and seeing all the old sights! Things haven't changed a bit, Arthur; the woods look exactly the same, and the bridge hasn't altered a mite since the days we used to sit on the edge and let our feet hang in. Do you remember that, Arthur?"
"Perfectly," was the answer.
"And that was over a dozen years ago! How old are you now, Arthur,—twenty-one—no, twenty-two; and I am just nineteen. To-day is my birthday, you know!"
"I had not forgotten it, Helen."
"You came to welcome me! And so did everything else. Do you know, I don't think I'd ever been so happy in my life as I was just now. For I thought the old trees greeted me, and the bridge, and the stream! And I'm sure that was the same bobolink! They don't have any bobolinks in Germany, and so that one was the first I have heard in three years. You heard him, didn't you, Arthur?"
"I did—at first," said Arthur.
"And then you heard me, you wicked boy! You heard me come in here singing and talking to myself like a mad creature! I don't think I ever felt so like singing before; they make hard work out of singing and everything else in Germany, you know, so I never sang out of business hours; but I believe I could sing all day now, because I'm so happy."
"Go on," said the other, seriously; "I could listen."
"No; I want to talk to you just now," said Helen. "You should have kept yourself hidden and then you'd have heard all sorts of wonderful things that you'll never have another chance to hear. For I was just going to make a speech to the forest, and I think I should have kissed each one of the flowers. You might have put it all into a poem,—for oh, father tells me you're going to be a great poet!"
"I'm going to try," said Arthur, blushing.
"Just think how romantic that would be!" the girl laughed; "and I could write your memoir and tell all I knew about you. Tell me about yourself, Arthur—I don't mean for the memoir, but because I want to know the news."
"There isn't any, Helen, except that I finished college last spring, as I wrote you, and I'm teaching school at Hilltown."
"And you like it?"
"I hate it; but I have to keep alive, to try to be a poet. And that is the news about myself."
"Except," added Helen, "that you walked twelve miles this glorious Saturday morning to welcome me home, which was beautiful. And of course you'll stay over Sunday, now you're here; I can invite you myself, you know, for I've come home to take the reins of government. You never saw such a sight in your life as my poor father has made of our house; he's got the parlor all full of those horrible theological works of his, just as if God had never made anything beautiful! And since I've been away that dreadful Mrs. Dale has gotten complete charge of the church, and she's one of those creatures that wouldn't allow you to burn a candle in the organ loft; and father never was of any use for quarreling about things." (Helen's father, the Reverend Austin Davis, was the rector of the little Episcopal church in the town of Oakdale just across the fields.) "I only arrived last night," the girl prattled on, venting her happiness in that way instead of singing; "but I hunted up two tallow candles in the attic, and you shall see them in church to-morrow. If there's any complaint about the smell, I'll tell Mrs. Dale we ought to have incense, and she'll get so excited about that that I'll carry the candles by default. I'm going to institute other reforms also,—I'm going to make the choir sing in tune!"
"If you will only sing as you were singing just now, nobody will hear the rest of the choir," vowed the young man, who during her remarks had never taken his eyes off the girl's radiant face.
Helen seemed not to notice it, for she had been arranging the marigolds; now she was drying them with her handkerchief before fastening them upon her dress.
"You ought to learn to sing yourself," she said while she bent her head down at that task. "Do you care for music any more than you used to?"
"I think I shall care for it just as I did then," was the answer, "whenever you sing it."
"Pooh!" said Helen, looking up from her marigolds; "the idea of a dumb poet anyway, a man who cannot sing his own songs! Don't you know that if you could sing and make yourself gloriously happy as I was just now, and as I mean to be some more, you could write poetry whenever you wish."
"I can believe that," said Arthur.
"Then why haven't you ever learned? Our English poets have all been ridiculous creatures about music, any how; I don't believe there was one in this century, except Browning, that really knew anything about it, and all their groaning and pining for inspiration was nothing in the world but a need of some music; I was reading the 'Palace of Art' only the other day, and there was that 'lordly pleasure house' with all its modern improvements, and without a sound of music. Of course the poor soul had to go back to the suffering world, if it were only to hear a hand-organ again."
"That is certainly a novel theory," admitted the young poet. "I shall come to you when I need inspiration."
"Come and bring me your songs," added the girl, "and I will sing them to you. You can write me a poem about that brook, for one thing. I was thinking just as I came down the road that if I were a poet I should have beautiful things to say to that brook. Will you do it for me?"
"I have already tried to write one," said the young man, hesitatingly.
"A song?" asked Helen.
"Oh, good! And I shall make some music for it; will you tell it to me?"
"Now, if you can remember it," said Helen. "Can you?"
"If you wish it," said Arthur, simply; "I wrote it two or three months ago, when the country was different from now."
He fumbled in his pocket for some papers, and then in a low tone he read these words to the girl:
The burden of the winter The year haa borne too long, And oh, my heart is weary For a springtime song!
The moonbeams shrink unwelcomed From the frozen lake; Of all the forest voices There is but one awake
I seek thee, happy streamlet That murmurest on thy way, As a child in troubled slumber Still dreaming of its play;
I ask thee where in thy journey Thou seeest so fair a sight, That thou hast joy and singing All through the winter night.
Helen was silent for a few moments, then she said, "I think that is beautiful, Arthur; but it is not what I want."
"Why not?" he asked.
"I should have liked it when you wrote it, but now the spring has come, and we must be happy. You have heard the springtime song."
"Yes," said Arthur, "and the streamlet has led me to the beautiful sight."
"It is beautiful," said Helen, gazing about her with that naive unconsciousness which "every wise man's son doth know" is one thing he may never trust in a woman. "It could not be more beautiful," she added, "and you must write me something about it, instead of wandering around our pasture-pond on winter nights till your imagination turns it into a frozen lake."
The young poet put away his papers rather suddenly at that, and Helen, after gazing at him for a moment, and laughing to herself, sprang up from the seat.
"Come!" she cried, "why are we sitting here, anyway, talking about all sorts of things, and forgetting the springtime altogether? I haven't been half as happy yet as I mean to be."
She seemed to have forgotten her friend's twelve mile walk; but he had forgotten it too, just as he soon forgot the rather wintry reception of his little song. It was not possible for him to remain dull very long in the presence of the girl's glowing energy; for once upon her feet, Helen's dancing mood seemed to come back to her, if indeed it had ever more than half left her. The brooklet struck up the measure again, and the wind shook the trees far above them, to tell that it was still awake, and the girl was the very spirit of the springtime once more.
"Oh, Arthur," she said as she led him down the path, "just think how happy I ought to be, to welcome all the old things after so long, and to find them all so beautiful; it is just as if the country had put on its finest dress to give me greeting, and I feel as if I were not half gay enough in return. Just think what this springtime is, how all over the country everything is growing and rejoicing; that is what I want you to put into the poem for me."
And so she led him on into the forest, carried on by joy herself, and taking all things into her song. She did not notice that the young man's forehead was flushed, or that his hand was burning when she took it in hers as they walked; if she noticed it, she chose at any rate to pretend not to. She sang to him about the forest and the flowers, and some more of the merry song which she had sung before; then she stopped to shake her head at a saucy adder's tongue that thrust its yellow face up through the dead leaves at her feet, and to ask that wisest-looking of all flowers what secrets it knew about the spring-time. Later on they came to a place where the brook fled faster, sparkling brightly in the sunlight over its shallow bed of pebbles; it was only her runaway caroling that could keep pace with that, and so her glee mounted higher, the young man at her side half in a trance, watching her laughing face and drinking in the sound of her voice.
How long that might have lasted there is no telling, had it not been that the woods came to an end, disclosing more open fields and a village beyond. "We'd better not go any farther," said Helen, laughing; "if any of the earth creatures should hear us carrying on they would not know it was 'Trunkenheit ohne Wein.'"
She stretched out her hand to her companion, and led him to a seat upon a fallen log nearby. "Poor boy," she said, "I forgot that you were supposed to be tired."
"It does not make any difference," was the reply; "I hadn't thought of it."
"There's no need to walk farther," said Helen, "for I've seen all that I wish to see. How dear this walk ought to be to us, Arthur!"
"I do not know about you, Helen," said the young man, "but it has been dear to me indeed. I could not tell you how many times I have walked over it, all alone, since you left; and I used to think about the many times I had walked it with you. You haven't forgotten, Helen, have you?"
"No," said Helen.
The young man was resting his head upon his hand and gazing steadily at the girl.
"Do you remember, Helen—?" He stopped; and she turned with her bright clear eyes and gazed into his.
"Remember what?" she asked.
"Do you remember the last time we took it, Helen?"
She flushed a trifle, and half involuntarily turned her glance away again.
"Do you remember?" he asked again, seeing that she was silent.
"Yes, I remember," said the girl, her voice lower—"But I'd rather you did not—." She stopped short.
"You wish to forget it, Helen?" asked Arthur.
He was trembling with anxiety, and his hands, which were clasped about his knee, were twitching. "Oh, Helen, how can you?" he went on, his voice breaking. "Do you not remember the last night that we sat there by the spring, and you were going away, no one knew for how long—and how you told me that it was more than you could bear; and the promise that you made me? Oh, Helen!"
The girl gazed at him with a frightened look; he had sunk down upon his knee before her, and he caught her hand which lay upon the log at her side.
"Helen!" he cried, "you cannot mean to forget that? For that promise has been the one joy of my life, that for which I have labored so hard! My one hope, Helen! I came to-day to claim it, to tell you—"
And with a wild glance about her, the girl sprang to her feet, snatching her hand away from his.
"Arthur!" she cried; "Arthur, you must not speak to me so!"
"I must not, Helen?"
"No, no," she cried, trembling; "we were only children, and we did not know the meaning of the words we used. You must not talk to me that way, Arthur."
"Helen!" he protested, helplessly.
"No, no, I will not allow it!" she cried more vehemently, stepping back as he started towards her, and holding close to her the hand he had held. "I had no idea there was such a thought in your mind—"
Helen stopped, breathlessly.
"—or you would not have been so kind to me?" the other added faintly.
"I thought of you as an old friend," said Helen. "I was but a child when I went away. I wish you still to be a friend, Arthur; but you must not act in that way."
The young man glanced once at her, and when he saw the stern look upon her face he buried his head in his arms without a sound.
For fully a minute they remained thus, in silence; then as Helen watched him, her chest ceased gradually to heave, and a gentler look returned to her face. She came and sat down on the log again.
"Arthur," she said after another silence, "can we not just be friends?"
The young man answered nothing, but he raised his head and gazed at her; and she saw that there were tears in his eyes, and a look of mute helplessness upon his face. She trembled slightly, and rose to her feet again.
"Arthur," she said gravely, "this must not be; we must not sit here any longer. I must go."
"Helen!" exclaimed the other, springing up.
But he saw her brow knit again, and he stopped short. The girl gazed about her, and the village in the distance caught her eye.
"Listen," she said, with forced calmness; "I promised father that I would go and see old Mrs. Woodward, who was asking for me. You may wait here, if you like, and walk home with me, for I shall not be gone very long. Will you do it?"
The other gazed at her for a moment or two; he was trying to read the girl's heart, but he saw only the quiet firmness of her features.
"Will you wait, Arthur?" she asked again.
And Arthur's head sank upon his breast. "Yes, Helen," he said. When he lifted it again, the girl was gone; she had disappeared in the thicket, and he could hear her footsteps as she passed swiftly down the hillside.
He went to the edge of the woods, where he could see her a short distance below, hurrying down the path with a step as light and free as ever. The wind had met her at the forest's edge and joined her once more, playing about her skirts and tossing the lily again. As Arthur watched her, the old music came back into his heart; his eyes sparkled, and all his soul seemed to be dancing in time with her light motion. Thus it went until she came to a place where the path must hide her from his view. The young man held his breath, and when she turned a cry of joy escaped him; she saw him and waved her hand to him gaily as she swept on out of his sight.
For a moment afterwards he stood rooted to the spot, then whirled about and laughed aloud. He put his hand to his forehead, which was flushed and hot, and he gazed about him, as if he were not sure where he was. "Oh, she is so beautiful!" he cried, his face a picture of rapture. "So beautiful!"
And he started through the forest as wildly as any madman, now muttering to himself and now laughing aloud and making the forest echo with Helen's name. When he stopped again he was far away from the path, in a desolate spot, but tho he was staring around him, he saw no more than before. Trembling had seized his limbs, and he sank down upon the yellow forest leaves, hiding his face in his hands and whispering, "Oh, if I should lose her! If I should lose her!" As old Polonius has it, truly it was "the very ecstasy of love."
"A dancing shape, an image gay, To haunt, to startle, and waylay."
The town of Oakdale is at the present time a flourishing place, inhabited principally by "suburbanites," for it lies not very far from New York; but the Reverend Austin Davis, who was the spiritual guardian of most of them, had come to Oakdale some twenty and more years ago, when it was only a little village, with a struggling church which it was the task of the young clergyman to keep alive. Perhaps the growth of the town had as much to do with his success as his own efforts; but however that might have been he had received his temporal reward some ten years later, in the shape of a fine stone church, with a little parsonage beside it. He had lived there ever since, alone with his one child,—for just after coming to Oakdale he had married a daughter of one of the wealthy families of the neighborhood, and been left a widower a year or two later.
A more unromantic and thoroughly busy man than Mr. Davis at the age of forty-five, when this story begins, it would not have been easy to find; but nevertheless people spoke of no less than two romances that had been connected with his life. One of them had been his early marriage, which had created a mild sensation, while the other had come into his life even sooner, in fact on the very first day of his arrival at Oakdale.
Mr. Davis could still bring back to his mind with perfect clearness the first night he had spent in the little wooden cottage which he had hired for his residence; how while busily unpacking his trunk and trying to bring the disordered place into shape, he had opened the door in answer to a knock and beheld a woman stagger in out of the storm. She was a young girl, surely not yet out of her teens, her pale and sunken face showing marks of refinement and of former beauty. She carried in her arms a child of about a year's age, and she dropped it upon the sofa and sank down beside it, half fainting from exhaustion. The young clergyman's anxious inquiries having succeeded in eliciting but incoherent replies, he had left the room to procure some nourishment for the exhausted woman; it was upon his return that the discovery of the romance alluded to was made, for the woman had disappeared in the darkness and storm, and the baby was still lying upon the sofa.
It was not altogether a pleasant romance, as is probably the case with a good many romances in reality. Mr. Davis was destined to retain for a long time a vivid recollection of the first night which he spent in alternately feeding that baby with a spoon, and in walking the floor with it; and also to remember the sly glances which his parishioners only half hid from him when his unpleasant plight was made known.
It happened that the poorhouse at Hilltown near by, to which the infant would have gone if he had left it to the care of the county, was at that time being "investigated," with all that the name implies when referring to public matters; the clergy of the neighborhood being active in pushing the charges, Mr. Davis felt that at present it would look best for him to provide for the child himself. As the investigation came to nothing, the inducement was made a permanent one; perhaps also the memory of the mother's wan face had something to do with the matter. At any rate the young clergyman, tho but scantily provided for himself, managed to spare enough to engage a woman in the town to take care of the young charge. Subsequently when Mr. Davis' wife died the woman became Helen's nurse, and so it was that Arthur, as the baby boy had been christened, became permanently adopted into the clergyman's little family.
It had not been possible to keep from Arthur the secret of his parentage, and the fact that it was known to all served to keep him aloof from the other children of the town, and to drive him still more to the confidence of Helen. One of the phrases which Mr. Davis had caught from the mother's lips had been that the boy was a "gentleman's son;" and Helen was wont to solace him by that reminder. Perhaps the phrase, constantly repeated, had much to do with the proud sensitiveness and the resolute independence which soon manifested itself in the lad's character. He had scarcely passed the age of twelve before, tho treated by Mr. Davis with the love and kindness of a father, he astonished the good man by declaring that he was old enough to take care of himself; and tho Mr. Davis was better situated financially by that time, nothing that he could say could alter the boy's quiet determination to leave school and be independent, a resolution in which he was seconded by Helen, a little miss of some nine years. The two children had talked it over for months, as it appeared, and concluded that it was best to sacrifice in the cause of honor the privilege of going to school together, and of spending the long holidays roaming about the country.
So the lad had served with childish dignity, first as an errand boy, and then as a store clerk, always contributing his mite of "board" to Mr. Davis' household expenses; meanwhile, possibly because he was really "a gentleman's son," and had inherited a taste for study, he had made by himself about as much progress as if he had been at school. Some years later, to the delight of Helen and Mr. Davis, he had carried off a prize scholarship above the heads of the graduates of the Hilltown High School, and still refusing all help, had gone away to college, to support himself there while studying by such work as he could find, knowing well that a true gentleman's son is ashamed of nothing honest.
He spent his vacations at home, where he and Helen studied together,—or such rather had been his hope; it was realized only for the first year.
Helen had an aunt upon her mother's side, a woman of wealth and social position, who owned a large country home near Oakdale, and who was by no means inclined to view with the complacency of Mr. Davis the idyllic friendship of the two young people. Mrs. Roberts, or "Aunt Polly" as she was known to the family, had plans of her own concerning the future of the beauty which she saw unfolding itself at the Oakdale parsonage. She said nothing to Mr. Davis, for he, being busy with theological works and charitable organizations, was not considered a man from whom one might hope for proper ideas about life. But with her own more practical husband she had frequently discussed the danger, and the possible methods of warding it off.
To send Helen to a boarding school would have been of no use, for the vacations were the times of danger; so it was that the trip abroad was finally decided upon. Aunt Polly, having traveled herself, had a wholesome regard for German culture, believing that music and things of that sort were paying investments. It chanced, also, that her own eldest daughter, who was a year older than Helen, was about through with all that American teachers had to impart; and so after much argument with Mr. Davis, it was finally arranged that she and Helen should study in Germany together. Just when poor Arthur was returning home with the sublime title of junior, his dream of all things divine was carried off by Aunt Polly, and after a summer spent in "doing" Europe, was installed in a girl's school in Leipzig.
And now, three years having passed, Helen has left her cousin for another year of travel, and returned home in all the glory of her own springtime and of Nature's; which brings us to where we left her, hurrying away to pay a duty call in the little settlement on the hillside.
The visit had not been entirely a subterfuge, for Helen's father had mentioned to her that the elderly person whom she had named to Arthur was expecting to see her when she returned, and Helen had been troubled by the thought that she would never have any peace until she had paid that visit. It was by no means an agreeable one, for old Mrs. Woodward was exceedingly dull, and Helen felt that she was called upon to make war upon dullness. However, it had occurred to her to get her task out of the way at once, while she felt that she ought to leave Arthur.
The visit proved to be quite as depressing as she had expected, for it is sad to have to record that Helen, however sensitive to the streamlet and the flowers, had not the least sympathy in the world for an old woman who had a very sharp chin, who stared at one through two pairs of spectacles, and whose conversation was about her own health and the dampness of the springtime, besides the dreariest gossip about Oakdale's least interesting people. Perhaps it might have occurred to the girl that it is very forlorn to have nothing else to talk about, and that even old Mrs. Woodward might have liked to hear about some of the things in the forest, or to have been offered the lily and the marigold. Unfortunately, however, Helen did not think about any of that, but only moved restlessly about in her chair and gazed around the ugly room. Finally when she could stand it no more, she sprang up between two of Mrs. Woodward's longest sentences and remarked that it was very late and a long way home, and that she would come again some time.
Then at last when she was out in the open air, she drew a deep breath and fled away to the woods, wondering what could be God's reason for such things. It was not until she was half way up the hillside that she could feel that the wind, which blew now upon her forehead, had quite swept away the depression which had settled upon her. She drank in the odors which blew from the woods, and began singing to herself again, and looking out for Arthur.
She was rather surprised not to see him at once, and still more surprised when she came nearer and raised her voice to call him; for she reached the forest and came to the place where she had left him without a reply having come. She shouted his name again and again, until at last, not without a half secret chagrin to have been so quickly forgotten, she was obliged to set out for home alone.
"Perhaps he's gone on ahead," she thought, quickening her pace.
For a time she watched anxiously, expecting to see his darkly clad figure; but she soon wearied of continued failure, and because it was her birthday, and because the brook was still at her side and the beautiful forest still about her, she took to singing again, and was quickly as happy and glorious as before, ceasing her caroling and moderating her woodland pace only when she neared the town. She passed down the main street of Oakdale, not quite without an exulting consciousness that her walk had crowned her beauty and that no one whom she saw was thinking about anything else; and so she came to her home, to the dear old parsonage, with its spreading ivy vines, and its two great elms.
When she had hurried up the steps and shut the door behind her, Helen felt privileged again to be just as merry as she chose, for she was even more at home here than in the woods; it seemed as if everything were stretching out its arms to her to welcome her, and to invite her to carry out her declared purpose of taking the reins of government in her own hands.
Upon one side of the hallway was a parlor, and on the other side two rooms, which Mr. Davis had used as a reception room and a study. The parlor had never been opened, and Helen promised herself a jolly time superintending the fixing up of that; on the other side she had already taken possession of the front room, symbolically at any rate, by having her piano moved in and her music unpacked, and a case emptied for the books she had brought from Germany. To be sure, on the other side was still a dreary wall of theological treatises in funereal black, but Helen was not without hopes that continued doses of cheerfulness might cure her father of such incomprehensible habits, and obtain for her the permission to move the books to the attic.
To start things in that direction the girl now danced gaily into the study where her father was in the act of writing "thirdly, brethren," for his next day's sermon; and crying out merrily,
"Up, up my friend, and quit your books, Or surely you'll grow double!"
she saluted her reverend father with the sweetest of kisses, and then seated herself on the arm of his chair and gravely took his pen out of his hand, and closed his inkstand. She turned over the "thirdly, brethren," without blotting it, and recited solemnly:
"One impulse from a vernal wood May teach you more of man, Of moral evil and of good. Than all the sages can!"
And then she laughed the merriest of merry laughs and added, "Daddy, dear, I am an impulse! And I want you to spare some time for me."
"Yes, my love," said Mr. Davis, smiling upon her, though groaning inwardly for his lost ideas. "You are beautiful this morning, Helen. What have you been doing?"
"I've had a glorious walk," replied the girl, "and all kinds of wonderful adventures; I've had a dance with the morning wind, and a race of a mile or two with a brook, and I've sung duets with all the flowers,—and here you are writing uninteresting things!"
"It's my sermon, Helen," said Mr. Davis.
"I know it," said Helen, gravely.
"But it must be done for to-morrow," protested the other.
"Half your congregation is going to be so excited about two tallow candles that it won't know what you preach about," answered the girl, swinging herself on the arm of the chair; "and I'm going to sing for the other half, and so they won't care either. And besides, Daddy, I've got news to tell you; you've no idea what a good girl I've been."
"How, my love?"
"I went to see Mrs. Woodward."
"Yes; and it was just to show you how dutiful I'm going to be. Daddy, I felt so sorry for the poor old lady; it is so beautiful to know that one is doing good and bringing happiness into other people's lives! I think I'll go and see her often, and carry her something nice if you'll let me."
Helen said all that as gravely as a judge; but Mr. Davis was agreeing so delightedly that she feared she was carrying the joke too far. She changed the subject quickly.
"Oh, Daddy!" she cried, "I forgot to tell you—I met a genius to-day!"
"A genius?" inquired the other.
"Yes," said Helen, "and I've been walking around with him all morning out in the woods! Did you never hear that every place like that has a genius?"
"Yes," assented Mr. Davis, "but I don't understand your joke."
"This was the genius of Hilltown High School," laughed Helen.
"Yes; will you believe it, the dear boy had walked all the way from there to see me; and he waited out by the old seat at the spring!"
"But where is he now?"
"I don't know," said Helen. "It's very queer; I left him to go see Mrs. Woodward. He didn't go with me," she added, "I don't believe he felt inclined to charity."
"That is not like Arthur," said the other.
"I'm going to take him in hand, as becomes a clergyman's daughter," said Helen demurely; "I'm going to be a model daughter, Daddy—just you wait and see! I'll visit all your parishioners' lawn-parties and five o'clock teas for you, and I'll play Handel's Largo and Siegfried's Funeral March whenever you want to write sermons. Won't you like that?"
"Perhaps," said Mr. Davis, dubiously.
"Only I know you'll make blots when I come to the cymbals," said Helen; and she doubled up her fists and hummed the passage, and gave so realistic an imitation of the cymbal-clashes in the great dirge that it almost upset the chair. Afterwards she laughed one of her merriest laughs and kissed her father on the forehead.
"I heard it at Baireuth," she said, "and it was just fine! It made your flesh creep all over you. And oh, Daddy, I brought home a souvenir of Wagner's grave!"
"Did you?" asked Mr. Davis, who knew very little about Wagner.
"Yes," said Helen, "just a pebble I picked up near it; and you ought to have seen the custom-house officer at the dock yesterday when he was going through my trunks. 'What's this, Miss?' he asked; I guess he thought it was a diamond in the rough. 'Oh, that's from Wagner's grave,' I said. And what do you think the wretch did?"
"I'm sure I don't know, my love."
"He threw it back, saying it wasn't worth anything; I think he must have been a Brahmsite."
"It took the longest time going through all my treasures," Helen prattled on, after laughing at her own joke; "you know Aunt Polly let us have everything we wanted, bless her heart!"
"I'm afraid Aunt Polly must have spoiled you," said the other.
"She has," laughed Helen; "I really think she must mean to make me marry a rich husband, or else she'd never have left me at that great rich school; Lucy and I were the 'star-boarders' you know, and we just had everybody to spoil us. How in the world could you ever manage to spare so much money, Daddy?"
"Oh, it was not so much," said Mr. Davis; "things are cheaper abroad." (As a matter of fact, the grimly resolute Aunt Polly had paid two-thirds of her niece's expenses secretly, besides distributing pocket money with lavish generosity.)
"And you should see the wonderful dresses I've brought from Paris," Helen went on. "Oh, Daddy, I tell you I shall be glorious! Aunt Polly's going to invite a lot of people at her house next week to meet me, and I'm going to wear the reddest of red, red dresses, and just shine like a lighthouse!"
"I'm afraid," said the clergyman, surveying her with more pride than was perhaps orthodox, "I'm afraid you'll find it hard to be satisfied in this poor little home of ours."
"Oh, that's all right," said Helen; "I'll soon get used to it; and besides, I've got plenty of things to fix it up with—if you'll only get those dreadful theological works out of the front room! Daddy dear, you can't imagine how hard it is to bring the Valkyries and Niebelungs into a theological library."
"I'll see what I can do, my love," said Mr. Davis.
He was silent for a few moments, perhaps wondering vaguely whether it was well that this commanding young lady should have everything in the world she desired; Helen, who had her share of penetration, probably divined the thought, for she made haste to change the subject.
"By the way," she laughed, "we got so interested in our chattering that we forgot all about Arthur."
"Sure enough," exclaimed the other. "Pray where can he have gone?"
"I don't know," Helen said; "it's strange. But poets are such queer creatures!"
"Arthur is a very splendid creature," said Mr. Davis. "You have no idea, Helen, how hard he has labored since you have been away. He carried off all the honors at college, and they say he has written some good poetry. I don't know much about that, but the people who know tell me so."
"It would be gloriously romantic to know a great poet," said Helen, "and perhaps have him write poetry about you,—'Helen, thy beauty is to me,' and 'Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss,' and all sorts of things like that! He's coming to live with us this summer as usual, isn't he, Daddy?"
"I don't know," said the other; "I presume he will. But where can he have gone to-day?"
"He acted very queerly," said the girl; and then suddenly a delighted smile lit up her face. "Oh, Daddy," she added, "do you know, I think Arthur is in love!"
"In love!" gasped Mr. Davis.
"Yes, in love!"
"Pray, with whom?"
"I'm sure I can't imagine," said Helen gravely; "but he seemed so abstracted, and he seemed to have something to tell me. And then he ran away!"
"That is very strange indeed," remarked the other. "I shall have to speak to him about it."
"If he doesn't come back soon, I'll go to look for him," said the girl; "I'm not going to let the water nixies run off with my Arthur; there are such things in that stream, because the song I was singing about it says so." And then she chanted as merrily as ever:
"Why speak I of a murmur? No murmur can it be; The Nixies they are singing 'Neath the wave their melody!"
"I will tell you what," said Mr. Davis, rising from his chair as he realized that the sermon had entirely vanished for the present. "You may go part of the way with me, and we'll stop in to see the Vails."
"The Vails!" gasped Helen. (Mr. Vail was the village dairyman, whose farm lay on the outskirts of the town; the village dairyman's family was not one that Helen cared to visit.)
"My love," said Mr. Davis, "poor Mrs. Vail has been very ill, and she has three little children, you know. You told me that you liked to bring joy wherever you could."
"Yes, but, Daddy," protested Helen, "those children are dirty! Ugh! I saw them as I came by."
"My love," answered the other, "they are God's children none the less; and we cannot always help such things."
"But we can, Daddy; there is plenty of water in the world."
"Yes, of course; but when the mother is ill, and the father in trouble! For poor Mr. Vail has had no end of misfortune; he has no resource but the little dairy, and three of his cows have been ill this spring."
And Helen's incorrigible mirth lighted up her face again. "Oh!" she cried. "Is that it! I saw him struggling away at the pump as I came by; but I had no idea it was anything so serious!"
Mr. Davis looked grieved; Helen, when her first burst of glee had passed, noticed it and changed her mood. She put her arms around her father's neck and pressed her cheek against his.
"Daddy, dear," she said coaxingly, "haven't I done charity enough for one day? You will surfeit me at the start, and then I'll be just as little fond of it as I was before. When I must let dirty children climb all over me, I can dress for the occasion."
"My dear," pleaded Mr. Davis, "Godliness is placed before Cleanliness."
"Yes," admitted Helen, "and of course it is right for you to inculcate the greater virtue; but I'm only a girl, and you mustn't expect sublimity from me. You don't want to turn me into a president of sewing societies, like that dreadful Mrs. Dale!"
"Helen," protested the other, helplessly, "I wish you would not always refer to Mrs. Dale with that adjective; she is the best helper I have."
"Yes, Daddy," said Helen, with the utmost solemnity; "when I have a dreadful eagle nose like hers, perhaps I can preside over meetings too. But I can't now."
"I do not want you to, my love; but—"
"And if I have to cling by the weaker virtue of cleanliness just for a little while, Daddy, you must not mind. I'll visit all your clean parishioners for you,—parishioners like Aunt Polly!"
And before Mr. Davis could make another remark, the girl had skipped into the other room to the piano; as her father went slowly out the door, the echoes of the old house were laughing with the happy melody of Purcell's—
Nymphs and shepherds, come a-way, come a-way, Nymphs and shepherds, come a-way, come a-way, Come, come, come, come a-way!
"For you alone I strive to sing, Oh, tell me how to woo!"
When Helen was left alone, she seated herself before her old music stand which had been brought down to welcome her, and proceeded to glance over and arrange the pieces she had learned and loved in her young girlhood. Most of them made her smile, and when she reflected upon how difficult she used to think them, she realized that now that it was over she was glad for the German regime. Helen had accounted herself an accomplished pianist when she went away, but she had met with new standards and learned to think humbly of herself in the great home of music. She possessed a genuine fondness for the art, however, and had devoted most of her three years to it, so that she came home rejoicing in the possession of a technic that was quite a mastership compared with any that she was likely to meet.
Helen's thoughts did not dwell upon that very long at present, however; she found herself thinking again about Arthur, and the unexpected ending of her walk with him.
"I had no idea he felt that way toward me," she mused, resting her chin in her hand; "what in the world am I going to do? Men are certainly most inconvenient creatures; I thought I was doing everything in the world to make him happy!"
Helen turned to the music once more, but the memory of the figure she had left sunken helplessly upon the forest seat stayed in her mind. "I do wonder if that can be why he did not wait for me," she thought, shuddering,—"if he was too wretched to see me again; what CAN I do?" She got up and began walking restlessly up and down the room for a few minutes.
"Perhaps I ought to go and look for him," she mused; "it was an hour or two ago that I left him there;" and Helen, after thinking the matter over, had half turned to leave, when she heard a step outside and saw the door open quickly. Even before she saw him she knew who it was, for only Arthur would have entered without ringing the bell. After having pictured him overcome by despair, it was rather a blow to her pride to see him, for he entered flushed, and seemingly elated.
"Well, sir, you've treated me nicely!" she exclaimed, showing her vexation in spite of herself.
"You will forgive me," said Arthur, smiling.
"Don't be too sure of it," Helen said; "I looked for you everywhere, and I am quite angry."
"I was obeying your high command," the other replied, still smiling.
"My command? I told you to wait for me."
"You told me something else," laughed Arthur. "You spent all the morning instructing me for it, you know."
"Oh!" said Helen. It was a broad and very much prolonged "Oh," for a sudden light was dawning upon the girl; as it came her frown gave place to a look of delight.
"You have been writing me a poem!" she cried, eagerly.
"Yes," said Arthur.
"Oh, you dear boy!" Helen laughed. "Then I do forgive you; but you ought to have told me, for I had to walk home all alone, and I've been worrying about you. I never once thought of the poem."
"The muses call without warning," laughed Arthur, "and one has to obey them, you know."
"Oh, oh!" exclaimed the other. "And so you've been wandering around the woods all this time, making verses! And you've been waving your arms and talking to yourself, and doing all sorts of crazy things, I know!" Then as she saw Arthur flush, she went on: "I was sure of it! And you ran away so that I wouldn't see you! Oh, I wish I'd known; I'd have hunted you up and never come home until I'd found you."
As was usual with Helen, her momentary vexation had gone like April rain, and all her seriousness had vanished with it. She forgot all about the last scene in the woods, and Arthur was once more the friend of her girlhood, whom she might take by the hand when she chose, and with whom she might be as free and happy as when she was alone with the flowers and the wind. It seemed as if Arthur too had vented all his pent up emotion, and returned to his natural cheerful self.
"Tell me," she cried, "did you put in all the things I told you about?"
"I put all I could," said Arthur. "That is a great deal to ask."
"I only want it to be full of life," laughed Helen. "That's all I care about; the man who wants to write springtime poetry for me must be wide awake!"
"Shall I read it to you?" asked Arthur, hesitatingly.
"Yes, of course," said Helen. "And read it as if you meant it; if I like it I'll tell you so."
"I wrote it for nothing but to please you" was the reply, and Arthur took a much bescrawled piece of paper from his pocket; the girl seated herself upon the piano stool again and gazed up at him as he rested his elbow upon the top of the piano and read his lines. There could not have been a situation in which the young poet would have read them with more complete happiness, and so it was a pleasure to watch him. And Helen's eyes kindled, and her cheeks flushed brightly as she listened, for she found that the verses had taken their imagery from her very lips.
In the May-time's golden glory Ere the quivering sun was high, I heard the Wind of Morning Through the laughing meadows fly;
In his passion-song was throbbing All the madness of the May, And he whispered: Thou hast labored; Thou art weary; come away!
Thou shalt drink a fiery potion For thy prisoned spirit's pain; Thou shalt taste the ancient rapture That thy soul has sought in vain.
I will tell thee of a maiden, One who has thy longing fanned— Spirit of the Forest Music— Thou shalt take her by the hand,
Lightly by her rosy fingers Trembling with her keen delight, And her flying steps shall lead thee Out upon the mountain's height;
To a dance undreamed of mortal To the Bacchanal of Spring,— Where in mystic joy united Nature's bright-eyed creatures sing.
There the green things of the mountain, Million-voiced, newly-born, And the flowers of the valley In their beauty's crimson morn;
There the winged winds of morning, Spirits unresting, touched with fire, And the streamlets, silver-throated, They whose leaping steps ne'er tire!
Thou shalt see them, ever circling Round about a rocky spring, While the gaunt old forest-warriors Madly their wide branches fling.
Thou shalt tread the whirling measure, Bathe thee in its frenzied strife; Thou shalt have a mighty memory For thy spirit's after life.
Haste thee while thy heart is burning, While thine eyes have strength to see; Hark, behind yon blackening cloud-bank, To the Storm-King's minstrelsy!
See, he stamps upon the mountains, And he leaps the valleys high! Now he smites his forest harp-strings, And he sounds his thunder-cry:—
Waken, lift ye up, ye creatures, Sing the song, each living thing! Join ye in the mighty passion Of the Symphony of Spring!
And so the young poet finished, his cheeks fairly on fire, and, as he gazed down at Helen, his hand trembling so that he could hardly hold the paper. One glance told him that she was pleased, for the girl's face was flushed like his own, and her eyes were sparkling with delight. Arthur's heart gave a great throb within him.
"You like it!" he exclaimed.
"Oh, Arthur, I do!" she cried. "Oh, how glorious you must have been!" And trembling with girlish delight, she took the paper from his hand and placed it in front of her on the music rack.
"Oh, I should like to write music for it!" she exclaimed; "for those lines about the Storm-King!"
And she read them aloud, clenching her hands and shaking her head, carried away by the image they brought before her eyes. "Oh, I should like music for it!" she cried again.
"I don't know very much about poetry, you know," she added, laughing excitedly. "If it's about the things I like, I can't help thinking it's fine. It's just the same with music,—if a man only makes it swift and strong, so that it leaps and flies and never tires, that is all I care about; and if he just keeps his trombones till the very last, he can carry me off my feet though he makes the worst noise that ever was! It's the same as a storm, you know, Arthur; do you remember how we used to go up on our hillside when the great wind was coming, and when everything was growing still and black; and how we used to watch the big clouds and the sheets of rain, and run for home when we heard the thunder? Once when you were away, Arthur, I didn't run, for I wanted to see what it was like; and I stayed up there and saw it all, singing the 'Ride of the Valkyries,' and pretending I was one of them and could gallop with the wind. For the wind is fine, Arthur! It fills you so full of its power that you stretch out your arms to it, and it makes you sing; and it comes, and it comes again, stronger than ever, and it sweeps you on, just like a great mass of music. And then it howls through the trees and it flies over the valleys,—that was what you were thinking of, weren't you, Arthur?"
And Helen stopped, breathlessly, and gazed at him; her cheeks were flushed, and her hands still tightly clasped.
"Yes," said Arthur, half mechanically, for he had lost himself in the girl's enthusiasm, and felt the storm of his verses once more.
"Your poem made me think of that one time that was so gloriously," Helen went on. "For the rain was almost blinding, and I was drenched, but I did not even know it. For oh, the thunder! Arthur, you've no idea what thunder is like till you're near it! There fell one fearful bolt quite near me, a great white, living thing, as thick as a man's body, and the crash of it seemed to split the air. But oh, I didn't mind it a bit! 'Der Sanger triumphirt in Wettern!' I think I was a real Valkyrie that time, and I only wished that I might put it into music."
The girl turned to the piano, and half in play struck a great rumbling chord, that rolled and echoed through the room; she sounded it once more, laughing aloud with glee. Arthur had sunk down upon a chair beside her, and was bending forward, watching her with growing excitement. For again and again Helen struck the keys with all the power of her arms, until they seemed to give forth real storm and thunder; and as she went on with her reckless play the mood grew upon her, and she lost herself in the vision of the Storm-King sweeping through the sky. She poured out a great stream of his wild music, singing away to herself excitedly in the meantime. And as the rush continued and the fierce music swelled louder, the phantasy took hold of the girl and carried her beyond herself. She seemed to become the very demon of the storm, unbound and reckless; she smote the keys with right royal strength, and the piano seemed a thing of life beneath her touch. The pace became faster, and the thunder rattled and crashed more wildly, and there awoke in the girl's soul a power of musical utterance that she had never dreamed of in her life before. Her whole being was swept away in ecstasy; her lips were moving excitedly, and her pulses were leaping like mad. She seemed no longer to know of the young man beside her, who was bent forward with clenched hands, carried beyond himself by the sight of her exulting power.
And in the meantime, Helen's music was surging on, building itself up into a great climax that swelled and soared and burst in a deafening thunder crash; and while the air was still throbbing and echoing with it, the girl joined to it her deep voice, grown suddenly conscious of new power:
"See, he stamps upon the mountains, And he leaps the valleys high! Now he smites his forest harp-strings, And he sounds his thunder cry!"
And as the cry came the girl laughed aloud, like a very Valkyrie indeed, her laugh part of the music, and carried on by it; and then gradually as the tempest swept on, the rolling thunder was lost in a march that was the very tread of the Storm-King. And the march broadened, and the thunder died out of it slowly, and all the wild confusion, and then it rose, glorious and triumphant, and turned to a mighty pean, a mightier one than ever Helen could have made. The thought of it had come to her as an inspiration, and as a refuge, that the glory of her passion might not be lost. The march had led her to it, and now it had taken her in its arms and swept her away, as it had swept millions by its majesty. It was the great Ninth Symphony Hymn:
"Hail thee, Joy! From Heaven descending, Daughter from Elysium! Ecstasy our hearts inflaming, To thy sacred shrine we come. Thine enchantments bind together Those whom custom's law divides; All are brothers, all united, Where thy gentle wing abides."
And Helen sang it as one possessed by it, as one made drunk with its glory—as the very Goddess of Joy that she was. For the Storm-King and his legions had fled, and another vision had come into her heart, a vision that every one ought to carry with him when the great symphony is to be heard. He should see the hall in Vienna where it was given for the last time in the great master's life, and see the great master himself, the bowed and broken figure that all musicians worship, standing up to conduct it; and see him leading it through all its wild surging passion, almost too frantic to be endured; and then, when the last towering climax has passed and the music has ceased and the multitude at his back has burst forth into its thundering shout, see the one pathetic figure standing there aloft before all eyes and still blindly beating the time. There must have been tears in the eyes of every man in that place to know the reason for it,—that he from whose heart all their joy had come, he who was lord and master of it, had never heard in his life and could never hope to hear one sound of that music he had written, but must dwell a prisoner in darkness and solitude forever.
That was the picture before Helen's eyes; she did not think of the fearful tragedy of it—she had no feeling for tragedy, she knew no more about suffering than a child just born. But joy she knew, and joy she was; she was the multitude lifted up in its ecstasy, throbbing, burning and triumphant, and she sang the great choruses, one after another, and the piano beneath her fingers thundered and rang with the instrumental part. Surely in all music there is no utterance of joy so sustained and so overwhelming in its intensity as this; it is a frenzy almost more than man can stand; it is joy more than human—the joy of existence:—
"Pleasure every creature living From kind Nature's breast receives; Good and evil, all are seeking For the rosy path she leaves."
And so the torrent of passionate exultation swept Helen onward with it until the very end, the last frantic prestissimo chorus, and then she sprang to her feet and flung up her hands with a cry. She stood thus for a moment, glowing with exultation, and then she sank down again and sat staring before her, the music still echoing through every fiber of her soul, and the shouting multitude still surging before her.
For just how long that lasted, she knew not, but only that her wild mood was gradually subsiding, and that she felt herself sinking back, as a bird sinks after its flight; then suddenly she turned. Arthur was at her side, and she gave a cry, for he had seized her hand in his, and was covering it with burning kisses.
"Arthur! Arthur!" she gasped.
The young man gazed up at her, and Helen remembered the scene in the forest, and realized what she had done. She had shaken him to the very depths of his being by the emotion which she had flung loose before him, and he seemed beside himself at that moment, his hair disordered and his forehead hot and flushed. He made a move as if to clasp the girl in his arms, and Helen tore her hand loose by main force and sprang back to the doorway.
"Arthur!" she cried. "What do you mean?"
He clutched at a chair for support, and stood staring at her. For fully a minute they remained thus, Helen trembling with alarm; then his head sank, and he flung himself down upon the sofa, where he lay sobbing passionately. Helen remained gazing at him with wide open and astonished eyes.
"Arthur!" she exclaimed again.
But he did not hear her, for the cruel sobbing that shook his frame. Helen, as soon as her first alarm had passed, came softly nearer, till she stood by the sofa; but still he did not heed her, and she did not dare even to put her hand upon his shoulder. She was afraid of him, her dearest friend, and she knew not what to make of him.
"Arthur," she whispered again, when he was silent for a moment. "Please speak to me, Arthur."
The other gazed up at her with a look of such helpless despair and longing upon his face that Helen was frightened still more. He had been sobbing as if his heart would break, but his eyes were dry.
"What is the matter?" she cried.
The young man answered her hoarsely: "Can you not see what is the matter, Helen? I love you! And you drive me mad!"
The girl turned very pale, and lowered her eyes before his burning gaze.
"Helen," the other went on impetuously, "you will break my heart if you treat me in this way. Do you not know that for three long years I have been dreaming of you, and of the promise that you gave me? You told me that you loved me, and that you always would love me! You told me that the night before you went away; and you kissed me. All this time I have been thinking of that kiss, and cherishing the memory of it, and waiting for you to return. I have labored for no other reason, I have had no other hope in the world; I have kept your image before me, and lived in it, and worshiped before it, and the thought of you has been all that I had. When I was tired and worn and ill I could only think of you and remember your promise, and count the days before your return. And, oh, it has been so long that I could not stand it! For weeks I have been so impatient, and so filled with the thought of the day when I might see you again that I have been helpless and half mad; for I thought that I should take your hand in mine and claim your promise. And this morning I wandered about the woods for hours, waiting for you to come. And see how you have treated me!"
He buried his face in his hands again, and Helen stood gazing at him, breathing very fast with alarm, and unable to find a word to say.
"Helen," he groaned, without looking up again, "do you not know that you are beautiful? Have you no heart? You fling your soul bare before me, and you fill me with this fearful passion; you will drive me mad!"
"But, Arthur," she protested, "I could not think of you so; I thought of you as my brother, and I meant to make you happy."
"Tell me, then," he gasped, staring at her, "tell me once for all. You do not love me, Helen?"
The girl answered with a frank gaze that was cruel, "No, Arthur."
"And you can never love me? You take back the promise that you made me?"
"I told you that I was only a child, Arthur; it has been a long time since I have thought of it."
The young man choked back a sob. "Oh, Helen, if you only knew what cruel words those are," he groaned. "I cannot bear them."
He gazed at her with his burning eyes, so that the girl lowered hers again. "Tell me!" he exclaimed. "What am I to do?"
"Can we not remain friends, just as we used to be?" she asked pleadingly. "Can we not talk together and help each other as before? Oh, Arthur, I thought you would come here to live all summer, and how I should like it! Why can you not? Can you not let me play for you without—without—" and Helen stopped, and flushed a trifle; "I do not know quite what to make of you to-day," she added.
She was speaking kindly, but to the man beside her with his burning heart, her words were hard to hear; he stared at her, shuddering, and then suddenly he clenched his hands and started to his feet.
"Helen," he cried, "there is but one thing. I must go!"
"Go?" echoed Helen.
"If I stay here and gaze at you I shall go mad with despair," he exclaimed incoherently. "Oh, I shall go mad! For I do love you, and you talk to me as if I were a child! Helen, I must get this out of my heart in some way, I cannot stay here."
"But, Arthur," the girl protested, "I told father you would stay, and you will make yourself ill, for you have walked all day."
Every word she uttered was more torment to the other, for it showed him how much his hopes were gone to wreck. He rushed across the room and opened the door; then, however, he paused, as if that had cost him all his resolution. He gazed at the girl with a look of unspeakable yearning, his face white, and his limbs trembling beneath him.
"You wish me to go, Helen?" he exclaimed.
"Wish you!" exclaimed Helen, who was watching him in alarm. "Of course not; I want you to stay and see father, and—"
"And hear you tell me that you do not love me! Oh, Helen, how can you say it again? Can you not see what you have done to me?"
"Arthur!" cried the girl.
"Yes, what you have done to me! You have made me so that I dare not stay near you. You must love me, Helen, oh, some time you must!" And he came toward her again, stretching out his arms to her. As she sprang back, frowning, he stopped and stood for an instant, half sinking; then he whirled about and darted out of the door.
Helen was scarcely able to realize at first that he was gone, but when she looked out she saw that he was already far down the street, walking swiftly. For a moment she thought of calling him; but she checked herself, and closed the door quietly instead, after which she walked slowly across the room. In the center of it she stopped still, gazing in front of her thoughtfully, and looking very grave indeed. "That is dreadful," she said slowly. "I had no idea of such a thing. What in the world am I to do?"
There was a tall mirror between the two windows of the room, and Helen went toward it and stood in front of it, gazing earnestly at herself. "Is it true, then, that I am so very beautiful?" she mused. "And even Arthur must fall in love with me!"
Helen's face was still flushed with the glory of her ride with the Storm-King; she smoothed back the long strands of golden hair that had come loose, and then she looked at herself again. "It is dreadful," she said once more, half aloud, "I do not think I ever felt so nervous in my life, and I don't know what to do; everything I did to please him seemed only to make him more miserable. I wanted him to be happy with me; I wanted him to stay with me." And she walked away frowning, and seated herself at the piano and began peevishly striking at the keys. "I am going to write to him and tell him that he must get over that dreadfulness," she muttered after a while, "and come back and be friends with me. Oakdale will be too stupid without him all summer, and I should be miserable."
She was just rising impatiently when the front door opened and her father came in, exclaiming in a cheery voice, "Well, children!" Then he stopped in surprise. "Why, someone told me Arthur was here!" he exclaimed.
"He's gone home again," said Helen, in a dissatisfied tone.
"Home!" exclaimed the other. "To Hilltown?"
"But I thought he was going to stay until tomorrow."
"So did I," said Helen, "but he changed his mind and decided that he'd better not."
"Why, I am really disappointed," said Mr. Davis. "I thought we should have a little family party; I haven't seen Arthur for a month."
"There is some important reason," said Helen—"that's what he told me, anyway." She did not want her father to have any idea of the true reason, or to ask any inconvenient questions.
Mr. Davis would perhaps have done so, had he not something else on his mind. "By the way, Helen," he said, "I must ask you, what in the world was that fearful noise you were making?"
"Noise?" asked Helen, puzzled for a moment.
"Why, yes; I met old Mr. Nelson coming down the street, and he said that you were making a most dreadful racket upon the piano, and shouting, too, and that there were a dozen people standing in the street, staring!"
A sudden wild thought occurred to Helen, and she whirled about. Sure enough, she found the two windows of the room wide open; and that was too much for her gravity; she flung herself upon the sofa and gave vent to peal after peal of laughter.
"Oh, Daddy!" she gasped. "Oh, Daddy!"
Mr. Davis did not understand the joke, but he waited patiently, taking off his gloves in the meantime. "What it is, Helen?" he enquired.
"Oh, Daddy!" exclaimed the girl again, and lifted herself up and turned her laughing eyes upon him. "And now I understand why inspired people have to live in the country!"
"What was it, Helen?"
"It—it wasn't anything, Daddy, except that I was playing and singing for Arthur, and I forgot to close the windows."
"You must remember, my love, that you live in a clergyman's house," said Mr. Davis. "I have no objection to merriment, but it must be within bounds. Mr. Nelson said that he did not know what to think was the matter."
Helen made a wry face at the name; the Nelsons were a family of Methodists who lived across the way. Methodists are people who take life seriously as a rule, and Helen thought the Nelsons were very queer indeed.
"I'll bet he did know what to think," she chuckled, "even if he didn't say it; he thought that was just what to expect from a clergyman who had a decanter of wine on his dinner table."
Mr. Davis could not help smiling. And as for Helen, she was herself all over again; for when her father had come in, she had about reached a point where she could no longer bear to be serious and unhappy. As he went on to ask her to be a little less reckless, Helen put her arms around him and said, with the solemnity that she always wore when she was gayest: "But, Daddy, I don't know what I'm to do; you sent me to Germany to study music, and if I'm never to play it—"
"Yes, but Helen; such frantic, dreadful noise!"
"But, Daddy, the Germans are emotional people, you know; no one would have been in the least surprised at that in Germany; it was a hymn, Daddy!"
"A hymn!" gasped Mr. Davis.
"Yes, honestly," said Helen. "It is a wonderful hymn. Every German knows it nearly by heart."
Mr. Davis had as much knowledge of German music as might be expected of one who had lived twenty years in the country and heard three hymns and an anthem sung every Sunday by a volunteer choir. Helen's musical education, as all her other education, had been superintended by Aunt Polly, and the only idea that came to Mr. Davis' mind was of Wagner, whose name he had heard people talk about in connection with noise and incoherency.
"Helen," he said, "I trust that is not the kind of hymn you are going to sing to-morrow."
"I don't know," was the puzzled reply. "I'll see what I can do, Daddy. It's dreadfully hard to find anything in German music like the slow-going, practical lives that we dull Yankees lead." Then a sudden idea occurred to the girl, and she ran to the piano with a gleeful laugh: "Just see, for instance," she said, fumbling hurriedly amongst her music, "I was playing the Moonlight Sonata this morning, and that's a good instance."
"This is the kind of moonlight they have in Germany," she laughed when she found it. After hammering out a few discords of her own she started recklessly into the incomprehensible "presto," thundering away at every crescendo as if to break her fingers. "Isn't it fine, Daddy?" she cried, gazing over her shoulder.
"I don't see what it has to do with the moon," said the clergyman, gazing helplessly at the open window, and wondering if another crowd was gathering.
"That's what everybody's been trying to find out!" said Helen; then, as she heard the dinner bell out in the hall, she ended with half a dozen frantic runs, and jumping up with the last of them, took her father's arm and danced out of the room with him.
"Perhaps when we come to see the other side of the moon," she said, "we may discover all about it. Or else it's because the moon is supposed to set people crazy." So they passed in to dinner, where Helen was as animated as ever, poor Arthur and his troubles seeming to have vanished completely from her thoughts.
In fact, it was not until the meal was nearly over that she spoke of them again; she noticed that it was growing dark outside, and she stepped to the window just as a distant rumble of thunder was heard.
"Dear me!" she exclaimed. "There's a fearful storm coming, and poor Arthur is out in it; he must be a long way from town by this time, and there is no house where he can go." From the window where she stood she had a view across the hills in back of the town, and could see the black clouds coming swiftly on. "It is like we were imagining this morning," she mused; "I wonder if he will think of it."
The dinner was over soon after that, and she looked out again, just as the first drops of rain were falling; the thunder was rolling louder, bringing to Helen a faint echo of her morning music. She went in and sat down at the piano, her fingers roaming over the keys hesitatingly. "I wish I could get it again," she mused. "It seems like a dream when I think of it, it was so wild and so wonderful. Oh, if I could only remember that march!"
There came a crash of thunder near by, as if to help her, but Helen found that all efforts were in vain. Neither the storm music nor the march came back to her, and even when she played a few chords of the great chorus she had sung, it sounded tame and commonplace. Helen knew that the glory of that morning was gone where goes the best inspiration of all humanity, back into nothingness and night.
"It was a shame," she thought, as she rose discontentedly from the piano. "I never was so carried away by music in my life, and the memory of it would have kept me happy for weeks, if Arthur hadn't been here to trouble me!"
Then, however, as she went to the window again to watch the storm which was now raging in all its majesty, she added more unselfishly: "Poor boy! It is dreadful to think of him being out in it." She saw a bolt of lightning strike in the distance, and she waited breathlessly for the thunder. It was a fearful crash, and it made her blood run faster, and her eyes sparkle. "My!" she exclaimed. "But it's fine!" And then she added with a laugh, "He can correct his poem by it, if he wants to!"
She turned to go upstairs. On the way she stopped with a rather conscience-stricken look, and said to herself, "Poor fellow! It seems a shame to be happy!" She stood for a moment thinking, but then she added, "Yet I declare, I don't know what to do for him; it surely isn't my fault if I am not in love with him in that mad fashion, and I don't see why I should make myself wretched about it!" Having thus silenced her conscience, she went up to unpack her trunks, humming to herself on the way:
"Sir Knight, a faithful sister's love This heart devotes to thee; I pray thee ask no other love, For pain that causes me.
"Quiet would I see thee come, And quiet see thee go; The silent weeping of thine eyes I cannot bear to know."
While she was singing Arthur was in the midst of the tempest, staggering towards his home ten miles away. He was drenched by the cold rain, and shivering and almost fainting from exhaustion—for he had eaten nothing since early dawn; yet so wretched and sick at heart was he that he felt nothing, and scarcely heard the storm or realized where he was.
"Dosn't thou 'ear my 'erse's legs, as they canters awaay? Proputty, proputty, proputty—that's what I 'ears 'em saay.
But I knawed a Quaaker feller as often 'as towd ma this: 'Doant thou marry for munny, but goa wheer munny is!'"
Helen had much to do to keep her busy during the next few days. She had in the first place to receive visits from nearly everybody in Oakdale, for she was a general favorite in the town, and besides that everyone was curious to see what effect the trip had had upon her beauty and accomplishments. Then too, she had the unpacking of an incredible number of trunks; it was true that Helen, having been a favored boarder at an aristocratic seminary, was not in the habit of doing anything troublesome herself, but she considered it necessary to superintend the servant. Last of all there was a great event at the house of her aunt, Mrs. Roberts, to be anticipated and prepared for.
It has been said that the marriage of Mr. Davis had been a second romance in that worthy man's career, he having had the fortune to win the love of a daughter of a very wealthy family which lived near Oakdale. The parents had of course been bitterly opposed to the match, but the girl had had her way. Unfortunately, however, the lovers, or at any rate the bride, having been without any real idea of duty or sacrifice, the match had proved one of those that serve to justify the opinions of people who are "sensible;" the young wife, wearying of the lot she had chosen, had sunk into a state of peevish discontent from which death came to relieve her.
Of this prodigal daughter Aunt Polly was the elder, and wiser, sister. She had never ceased to urge upon the other, both before and after marriage, the folly of her conduct, and had lived herself to be a proof of her own more excellent sense, having married a wealthy stockbroker who proved a good investment, trebling his own capital and hers in a few years. Aunt Polly therefore had a fine home upon Madison Avenue in New York, and a most aristocratic country-seat a few miles from Oakdale, together with the privilege of frequenting the best society in New York, and of choosing her friends amongst the most wealthy in the neighborhood of the little town. This superiority to her erring sister had probably been one of the causes that had contributed to develop the most prominent trait in her character—which is perhaps the most prominent trait of high society in general—a complete satisfaction with the world she knew, and what she knew about it, and the part she played in it. For the rest, Aunt Polly was one of those bustling little women who rule the world in almost everything, because the world finds it is too much trouble to oppose them. She had assumed, and had generally succeeded in having recognized, a complete superiority to Mr. Davis in her knowledge about life, with the result that, as has been stated, the education of the one child of the unfortunate marriage had been managed by her.
When, therefore, Helen had come off the steamer, it had been Mrs. Roberts who was there to meet her; and the arrangement announced was that the girl was to have three days to spend with her father, and was then to come for a week or two at her aunt's, who was just opening her country home and who intended to invite a score of people whom she considered, for reasons of her own, proper persons for her niece to meet. Mrs. Roberts spoke very condescendingly indeed of the company which Helen met at her father's, Mr. Davis having his own opinions about the duty of a clergyman toward the non-aristocratic members of his flock.
The arrangement, it is scarcely necessary to say, pleased Helen very much indeed; the atmosphere of luxury and easy superiority which she found at her aunt's was much to her taste, and she looked forward to being a center of attraction there with the keenest delight. In the meantime, however, she slaked her thirst for happiness just as well at Oakdale, accepting with queenly grace the homage of all who came to lay their presents at her feet. Sunday proved to be a day of triumph, for all the town had come to church, and was as much stirred by the glory of her singing as Arthur had predicted. After the service everyone waited to tell her about it, and so she was radiant indeed.
By Tuesday, however, all that had come to seem a trifling matter, for that afternoon Aunt Polly was to come, and a new world was to be opened for her conquest. Helen was amusing herself by sorting out the motley collection of souvenirs and curios which she had brought home to decorate her room, when she heard a carriage drive up at the door, and a minute later heard the voice of Mrs. Roberts' footman in the hall.
Mrs. Roberts herself did not alight, and Helen kept her waiting only long enough to slip on her hat, and to bid her father a hurried farewell. In a minute more she was in the carriage, and was being borne in state down the main street of Oakdale.
"You are beautiful to-day, my dear," said her aunt, beaming upon her; "I hope you are all ready for your triumph."
"I think so," said Helen. "I've about seen everybody and everything I wanted to at home; I've been wonderfully happy, Auntie."
"That is right, my dear," said Aunt Polly. "You have certainly every cause to be, and you would be foolish not to make the most of it. But I should think this town would seem a somewhat less important place to you, after all that you have seen of the world."
"Yes, it does a little," laughed Helen, "but it seemed good to see all the old people again."
"Someone told me they saw Arthur here on Saturday," said the other. "Did you see him?"
"Oh, yes," said Helen; "that's what he came for. You can fancy how glad I was to meet him. I spent a couple of hours walking in the woods with him."
Mrs. Roberts' look of dismay may be imagined; it was far too great for her to hide.
"Where is he now?" she asked, hastily.
"Oh, he has gone home," said Helen; and she added, smiling, "he went on Saturday afternoon, because he's writing a poem about thunderstorms, and he wanted to study that one."
The other was sufficiently convinced of the irresponsibility of poets to be half uncertain whether Helen was joking or not; it was very frequently difficult to tell, anyway, for Helen would look serious and amuse herself by watching another person's mystification—a trait of character which would have been intolerable in anyone less fascinating than she.
Perhaps Aunt Polly thought something of that as she sat and watched the girl. Aunt Polly was a little woman who looked as if she herself might have once made some pretense to being a belle, but she was very humble before Helen. "My dear," she said, "every minute that I watch you, I am astonished to see how wonderfully you have grown. Do you know, Helen, you are glorious!"