IN the afternoon of the next day, Homer Orton presented
himself at Percy's apartments, only to be met by Mrs. Griffith, and informed
of that young man's critical condition.
"He is slightly easier to-day,"she said, "but we are instructed
to keep him very quiet. There is little hope entertained of his recovery."
The journalist stood for a moment silent, shocked, bewildered.
Then he spoke :
"I wish to consult him upon a matter of the gravest importance.
Can you direct me to his most intimate friend or relative, to whom I might
impart some very serious information? It is a matter which cannot wait."
Mrs. Griffith was impressed with the earnestness of the
young man's manner.
Reluctantly she stepped into the adjoining study, where
Helena's shapely form lay stretched upon a broad lounge. It was the first
respite she had taken from her position as watcher. She seemed to be sleeping,
and Mrs. Griffith spoke her name softly, unwilling to disturb her.
But Helena was not sleeping. Though worn out with fatigue
and excitement, the memory of Dolores' face, as it appeared for one brief,
terrible second at the door of Percy's apartment, drove slumber from her
The consciousness that her old friend was in the city,
near to her, suffering all the agonies of slighted wounded love, wrung
her gentle heart with inexpressible pain. She longed to go to her, to take
her in her arms, to comfort her. She longed to bring her to Percy's bed-side,
and to say : "Stay here with me; together we will minister to his dying
needs; it is our mutual right, our mutual sorrow." But even if she could
find Dolores, that suffering tortured woman would turn from her, in bitterness
and anger. And Percy must not know that she was in the city; the knowledge
might prove fatal to him in his weak, exhausted condition.
She arose wearily as Mrs. Griffith made known her errand.
"Do not let Percy know, that I am disturbed :" she said.
"He made me promise to sleep until evening, without once leaving my couch.
He would be annoyed if he knew I had disobeyed him."
"What! using authority so soon?" playfully asked
Helena answered only by a sad smile, as she passed out
to meet Homer Orton. He arose with surprise, confusion, and distress mingled
in his expression, as his eyes fell upon a comely young woman.
"I had a very painful piece of information to impart to
Mr. Durand," he began, "and wished to ask his advice on the proper course
to pursue. It is, however, a matter so extremely personal and of such a
delicate nature, that I hardly know how to broach it to you. Are you--a
"I am Mr. Durand's nearest friend and confidant. We are
very closely related indeed," Helena answered quietly. "Please proceed
with what you have to say."
Homer drew a copy of the morning paper from his pocket.
"This paper reports the sudden death of an acquaintance
of Mr. Durand." he said. "We both knew her abroad; but it seems she has
been living in New York under an assumed name, or at least under the name
of Madame Percy. I recognized her this afternoon as I visited her remains
in company with another journalist, as the lady who had bestowed most graceful
hospitality upon both Mr. Durand and myself, while we were abroad. I feel
personally interested in her as a friend, and I am certain, that he also
does. "Whatever her secrets, or her sorrows, I desire to keep them from
the daily papers. I wished the advice and assistance of Mr. Durand in this
matter. The apartments of the deceased lady are left in care of a French
maid who cannot speak a word of English. Unless some friend takes charge
of her effects, it will be impossible to avoid an exposure of what I fear
is a painful history."
"Exposure must be avoided at any cost," cried Helena,
her voice choked with tears, her heart torn anew over this additional and
unexpected sorrow. "Madame Percy was a dear friend of mine. I know her
entire history; it is most sad, most unfortunate, but it must not be given
to the public; it must not be discussed by curious people who did not know
her as I knew her--to love and to pity."
"It need not be given to the public," Homer Orton answered,
firmly. "But you must go at once and take charge of her effects. The knowledge
that she has friends in the city will prevent the sensation-seekers from
ferreting out her history. You can give the reporters such facts as you
choose concerning her life, if they approach you, and I will use my influence
to prevent anything unpleasant from creeping into print."
And so, while Percy believed Helena to be sleeping, she
performed the last sad rites for the woman who had been her dearest friend
and her unintentional foe. With the exception of faithful Lorette, she
was the only mourner to shed tears as the beautiful body was lowered to
its last resting-place. Tears made more scalding and bitter by the thought
of another burial drawing near, where she must officiate in the lasting
character of a life-long mourner.
A story which closes with a suicide and a death is not
a pleasant story to relate, or to read. Yet we who peruse our daily papers,
know that such stories are very true to life.
It is gratifying to me, however, that I need not complete
my narrative with a double tragedy.
Percy did not die.
It might have been owing to the mental condition produced
by the knowledge that Helena was really his wife, or it might have been
due to the skill of his physician; but certain it is, that he recovered--recovered,
to realize that he had gained a wife almost by "false pretenses;" and that
Dolores was no longer in existence upon the earth where she came an undesired
child, and from which she went forth a suffering, desperate woman.
Shocked and almost crazed with the knowledge of this tragedy,
Percy called Helena to him, a few hours after she had imparted the sad
"I feel like a cheat and a liar," he said; looking mournfully
in her eyes, "to think I did not die as I promised. But I shall not offend
you with my presence long. As soon as my strength permits I am going abroad,
to remain an indefinite time. I feel that I shall never return to my native
land; something tells me I shall find a grave among strangers. Our marriage
will, of course, remain a secret with the few who know it now, and need
cause you no annoyance."
Percy followed out the course of action he had set for
himself, but, as is frequently the case with presentiments of evil, his
impression that he was to find a grave among strangers was not verified.
He returned, after two years spent in travel, bronzed
and robust, the light of his pure love for Helena shining more warmly than
ever in his blue eyes.
It is so easy for a man to live down the errors that a
woman (Christ pity her) can only expiate in the grave.
He reached out his arms, when he once more stood face
to face with Helena.
"Can you not forgive all that miserable darkened past,
and come and brighten the future for me?" he asked, in a voice that was
like a caress. "I love you and I need you, Helena."
She looked up into his face, her eyes heavy with unshed
tears. The love in her heart triumphed over every preconceived resolve,
over every cruel, agonizing memory, as great love always must.
Yet there are triumphs sadder than any defeat : there
are joys more painful than any woe. It was such a triumph, and such a joy,
that filled Helena's heart as she glided into her lover's embrace.
"Oh, yes, I can forgive it all," she sighed. "Because
I love you and because I am a woman. I sometimes think. Percy, that
God must be a woman. He is expected to forgive so much."
Into her great heart, as she nestled upon his breast,
in this supreme hour of reconciliation and recompense, there shot a keen,
agonizing memory of the woman she had displaced; of the woman who had wrecked
her whole happiness and lost her life in an unwise love for this man, whose
tender, passionate words were falling now upon willing ears.
It was a memory which must, to a nature as generous and
unselfish as hers, cast a melancholy shadow over the most intense hour
of happiness the future could hold for her.
It was a phantom shape, which must sit forever at her
feasts of love. Percy had made to her a complete surrender of his very
soul; and she knew that their doubly wedded spirits, like two united streams,
would mix and flow on together to the ocean of Eternity. Yet the more perfect
her own joy, the deeper into her sympathetic heart must sink the sorrowful
memories of Dolores.
Always, as she looked up to him with the worshiping eyes
of a loyal wife, and saw in him her hero, her ideal, her protector and
her guide, she must remember the young life his thoughtless, selfish folly
helped to lay in ruins. All these emotions, robed the joy of that nuptial
hour in mourning, as she lifted her sweet, sad face and filmy eyes to his.
And Percy, folding her in his arms, felt all a man's selfish
pride, and all a lover's keen rapture in the knowledge that he was pressing
the first kiss upon her pure lips, which had ever been placed there since
her father's dying benediction fell upon them.