The wind kissed Helena's face, bringing dainty color to her cheeks, tossing truant wisps of hair this way and that, as the car swept onward. But she sat strangely silent now beside Thornton at the steering wheel.

It seemed to her that she was living, not her own life, not life as she had known and looked upon it in the years before, but living, as it were, in a strange, suspended state that was neither real nor unreal, as in a dream that led her, now through cool, deep forests, beside clear, sparkling streams where all was a great peace and the soul was at rest, serene, untroubled, now into desolate places where misery had its birth and shame was, where there was fear, and the mind stood staggered and appalled and lost and knew not how to guide her that she might flee from it all.

At moments most unexpected, as now when motoring with Thornton in the car that he had brought back with him on, his return to Needley, when laughing at the Flopper's determined pursuit of Mamie Rodgers, when engaged in the homely, practical details of housekeeping about the cottage, there came flashing suddenly upon her the picture of Mrs. Thornton lying on the brass bed in the car compartment that night, every line of the pale, gentle face as vivid, as actual as though it were once more before her in reality, and in her ears rang again, stabbing her with their unmeant condemnation, those words of sweetness, love and purity that held her up to gaze upon herself in ghastly, terrifying mockery.

It stupified her, bewildered her, frightened her. She seemed, for days and weeks now, to be drifting with a current that, eddying, swirling, swept her this way and that. How wonderful it was, this life she was now leading compared with the old life—so full of the better things, the better emotions, the better thoughts that she had never known before! How monstrous in its irony that she was leading it to steal, that she might play her part in a criminal scheme for a criminal end! And yet, somehow, it did not all seem sham, this part she played—and that very thought, too, frightened her. Why was it now that Madison's oft-attempted, and as oft-repulsed, kiss upon her lips was something from which she shrank and battled back, no longer from a sense of pique or to bring him to his knees, but because something new within her, intangible, that she did not understand, rose up against it! Why did she do this—she, who had known the depths, who had known no other guide or mentor than the turbulent, passionate love she had yielded him and in her abandonment had once found contentment! Was her love for him gone? Or, if it was not that—what was it?

What was it? A week, another, two more, a month had slipped away since Thornton had returned, and there had been so much of genuineness crowded into this sham part of hers that it seemed at times the part itself was genuine. She had come to love that little room of hers, love it for its dear simplicity, the white muslin curtains, the rag mat, the patch-quilt on the bed; those daily duties of a woman, that she had never done before, that she had at first looked at askance, brought now a sense of keen, housewifely pride; the gentle patience of the Patriarch, his love for her, his simple trust in her had found a quick and instant response in her own heart, and daily her affection for him had grown; and there was Thornton—this man beside her, whose companionship somehow she seemed to crave for, who, in his grave, quiet manliness, seemed a sort of inspiration to her, who seemed in a curious way to appease a new hunger that had come to her for association, for contact with better thoughts and better ideals.

What was it? Environment? Yes; there must be something in that. It was having its effect even on Pale Face Harry and the Flopper. What was it that Harry, a surprisingly lusty farmhand now, had said to her a week or so ago: "Say, Helena, do you ever feel that while you was trying to kid the crowd about this living on the square, you was kind of getting kidded yourself? I dunno! I ain't coughed for a month—honest. But it ain't only that. Say—I dunno! Do you ever feel that way?"

Yes; there must be something in environment. The old life had never brought her thoughts such as these, thoughts that had been with her now almost since the first day she had come to Needley—this disquiet, this self-questioning, these sudden floods of condemnatory confusion; and, mingling with them, a startled thrill, a strange, half-glad, half-premonitory awakening, a vague pronouncement that innately it might be true that she was not what she really was—but what all those around her held her to be—what Mrs. Thornton had said she was—and—

Her fingers closed with a quick, fierce pressure on the arm-rest of her seat—and she shifted her position with a sudden, involuntary movement.

Thornton, a road-map tacked on a piece of board and propped up at his feet, raised his head, and, self-occupied himself, had apparently not noticed her silence, for he spoke irrelevantly.

"I hope you won't mind if the road is a bit rougher than usual for a few miles," he said; "but you know we decided we didn't like the looks of the weather at tea-time, and according to the map, which labels it 'rough but passable,' this is a short cut that will lop off about ten miles and take us back to Needley through Barton's Mills."

"Of course, I don't mind," Helena answered. "How far are we from Needley?"

"About thirty-five miles or so," Thornton replied. "Say, an hour and a half with any kind of going at all. We ought to be back by nine."

Helena nodded brightly and leaned back in her seat. Rather than objecting to the short cut that Thornton had begun to negotiate, the road, now that she gave her attention to it, she found to be quite the prettiest bit she had seen in the whole afternoon's run, where, in the rough, sparsely settled north country, all was both pretty and a delight—miles and miles without the sign of even a farmhouse, just the great Maine forests, so majestic and grand in their solitude, bordering the road that undulated with the country, now to a rise with its magnificent sweep of scenery, now to the cool, fresh valleys full of the sweet pine-scent of the woods. They had explored much of it together in the little 'run-about,' nearly every day a short spin somewhere; to-day a little more ambitious run—the whole afternoon, and tea, a picnic tea, an hour or more back, in a charming glade beside a little brook.

"Oh, this is perfectly lovely!" she exclaimed; and then, with a breathless laugh, as a bump lifted her out of her seat: "It is rough—isn't it?"

Thornton laughed and slowed down.

"I don't fancy it's used much, except in the winter for logging. But if the map says we can get through, I guess we're all right—there's about an eight mile stretch of it."

It was growing dusk, and the shadows, fanciful and picturesque; were deepening around them. Now it showed a solid mass of green ahead, and, like a sylvan path, the road, converging in the distance, lost itself in a wall of foliage; now it swerved rapidly, this way and that, in short curves, as though, like one lost, it sought its way.

A half hour passed. Thornton stopped the car, got down and lighted his lamps, then started on again. The going had seemed to be growing steadily worse—the road, as Thornton had said, was little more indeed than a logging trail through the heart of the woods; and now, deeper in, with increasing frequency, the tires slipped and skidded on damp, moist earth that at times approached very nearly to being oozy mud.

Silence for a long while had held between them. It was taking Thornton all his time now to guide the car, that, negotiating fallen branches strewn across the way, bad holes and ruts, was crawling at a snail's pace.

"'Rough but passable'!" he laughed once, clambering back to his seat after clearing away a dead tree-trunk from in front of them. "But there's no use trying to go back, as we must be halfway through, and it can't be any worse ahead than it's been behind. I'd like to tell the fellow that made this map something!"

And then upon Helena, just why she could not tell, began to steal an uneasiness that frightened her a little. It had grown suddenly, intensely dark—quicker than the slow, creeping change of dusk blending softly into night. Sort of eerie, it seemed—and a wind springing up and rustling through the branches made strange noises all about. They seemed to be shut in by a wall of blackness on every hand, except ahead where, like great streaming eyes of fire, the powerful lamps shot out their rays making weird color effects in the forest—huge tree-trunks loomed a dead drab, like mute sentinels, grim and ominous, that barred their way; now, in the full glare, the foliage took on the softest fairy shade of green; now, tapering off, heavier in color, it merged into impenetrable black; and, with the jouncing of the car, the light rays jiggling up and down gave an unnatural semblance as of moving, animate things before them, a myriad of them, ever retreating, but ever marshalling their forces again as though threatening attack, as though to oppose the car's advance.

What was there to be afraid of? She tried to laugh at herself—it was perfectly ridiculous. A little bit of rough road—the forest that she loved around her—even if it was very dark. They would come out eventually somewhere on the trunk-road to Barton's Mills—that was all there was to it. Meanwhile, it was quite an experience, and she had every confidence in Thornton. She glanced at him now. It was too dark to get more than an indistinct outline of the clean-cut profile, but there was something inspiriting in the alert, self-possessed, competent poise of his body as he crouched well forward over the wheel, his eyes never lifting from the road ahead.

They appeared to be going a little faster now, too—undoubtedly the road was getting better. What was there to be afraid of? It didn't make it any more pleasant for Thornton, who was probably reproaching himself rather bitterly for having been tempted by the "short cut," to have her sit and mope beside him!

She began to hum an air softly to herself—and then laughingly sang a bar or two aloud.

Thornton shot a quick, appreciative glance at her and nodded, joining in the laugh.

"By Jove!" he said approvingly. "That sounds good to me. I was afraid this beastly stretch, bumping and crawling along in the dark, was making you miserable."

"Miserable!" exclaimed Helena. "Why, the idea! What is there to be miserable about? We'll get through after a while—and the road's better now than it was anyhow, isn't it?"


"You're running faster."

"Oh—er—yes, of course," said Thornton quickly. "I wasn't thinking of what I said. I—"

He stopped suddenly, as Helena lifted her hand to her face.

"Why, it's beginning to rain," she said.

"Yes; I'm afraid so," he admitted. "I was hoping we would get out of here before it came."

"Oh!" said Helena.

"And the worst of it is," he added hurriedly, "there's no top to the car, and you've no wraps."

"Perhaps it won't be anything more than a shower," said Helena hopefully.

"Perhaps not," he agreed. "Anyway"—he stopped the car, and took off his coat—"put this on."

"No—please," protested Helena. "You'll need it yourself."

"Not at all," said Thornton cheerily. "And that light dress of yours would be soaked through in no time."

He held the coat for her, and she slipped it on—and his hand around her shoulder and neck, as he turned the collar up and buttoned it gently about her, seemed to linger as it touched her throat, and yet linger with the most curious diffidence—a sort of reverence. Helena suddenly wanted to laugh—and, quick in her intuition, as suddenly wanted to cry. It wasn't much—only a little touch. It didn't mean love, or passion, or feeling—only that, unconsciously in his respect, he held her up to gaze upon herself again in that mocking mirror where all was sham.

They started on—Thornton silent once more, busy with the car; Helena, her mind in riot, with no wish for words.

The rain came steadily in a drizzle. She could feel her dress growing damp around her knees—and she shivered a little. How strangely wonderful the rain-beads looked on their background of green leaves where the lamps played upon them—they seemed to catch and hold and reflect back the light in a quick, passing procession of clear, sparkling crystals. But it was raining more heavily now, wasn't it? The drops were no longer clinging to the leaves, they were spattering dull and lustrelessly to the ground. And Thornton seemed suddenly to be in trouble—he was bending down working at something. How jerkily the car was moving! And now it stopped.

Thornton swung out of his seat to the ground.

"It's all right!" he called out reassuringly. "I'll have it fixed in a minute."

It was muddy enough now, and the ruts, holding the rain, were regular wheel-traps. Apart from any other trouble, Thornton did not like the prospect—and, away from Helena now, his face was serious. He cranked the engine—no result. He tried it again with equal futility—then, going to the tool-box, he took out his electric flashlight, and, lifting the engine hood, began to peer into the machinery. Everything seemed all right. He tried the crank again—the engine, like some cold, dead thing, refused to respond.

"What's the matter?" Helena asked him from the car.

"I don't know," Thornton answered lightly. "I haven't found out yet—but don't you worry, it's nothing serious. I'll have it in a jiffy."

Helena's knowledge of motor cars and engine trouble was not extensive—she was conversant only with the "fool's mate" of motoring.

"Maybe there's no gasoline," she suggested helpfully.

"Nonsense!" returned Thornton, with a laugh. "I told Babson to see that the tank was full before he brought the car around—he wouldn't forget a thing like that."

Thornton, nevertheless, tested the gasoline tank.

"Well?" inquired Helena, breaking the silence that followed.

"There is no—gasoline," said Thornton heavily.

Neither spoke for a moment. There was no sound but the steady drip from the leaves. Then Helena forced a laugh.

"Isn't it ridiculous!" she said. "That is what one is always making fun of others for. I—I don't think it's going to stop raining—do you? And we're miles and miles from anywhere. What do people do when they're caught like this?"

Thornton did not answer at once. Bitterly reproachful with himself, he stood there coatless in the rain. If it had been a breakdown, an accident that was unavoidable, a little of the sting might have gone out of the situation—but gasoline! This—from rank, blatant, glaring, inexcusable idiocy. Not on his part perhaps—but that did not lessen his responsibility. They were miles, as she had said, from anywhere—four miles at least in either direction from the main road, and as many more probably after that from any farmhouse—he remembered that for half an hour before they had turned into the "short cut" they had seen no sign of habitation—and what lay in the other direction, ahead, would in all probability be the same—they were up in the timber regions, in the heart of them—she couldn't walk miles in the rain with the roads in a vile condition, and growing viler every minute as the rain sank in and the mud grew deeper. And then another thought—a thought that came now, sharp and quick, engulfing the mere discomfort of a miserable night spent there in the woods—the clatter of busy, gossiping tongues seemed already to be dinning their abominable noises in his ears. And that he, that he—yes, it seemed to sweep upon him in a sudden, overmastering surge, the realization that the delight and joy of her companionship through the month that was gone was love that leaped now into fierce, jealous flame, maddened at a breath that would smirch her in the eyes of others—that he should be the cause of it! "What do people do when they're caught like this?"—in their innocence there seemed an unfathomed depth of irony in her words, but as he unconsciously repeated them they cleared his brain and brought him suddenly to face the immediate practical problem that confronted them. What was to be done?

"Shall—shall I get out?" she called to him, a hint of reminder in her tones that she had spoken to him before and received no answer.

Thornton moved back to the side of the car.

"Miss Vail," he said contritely, "I—I don't know what to say to you for getting you into this. I—"

"I know," she interrupted quickly, leaning over the side of the car and placing her hand on his arm. "Don't try to say anything. It's not your fault—it's not either of our faults. Now tell me what you think the best thing is to do, and, you'll see, I'll make the best of it—there's no use being miserable about it."

"You're a game little woman!" he said earnestly, quite unnecessarily clasping the hand on his arm and wringing it to endorse his verdict. "And that makes it a lot easier, you know. Well then, we might as well face the whole truth at one fell swoop. We're up against it"—he laughed cheerfully—"hard. It's miles to anywhere—we don't know where 'anywhere' is—and of course you can't walk aimlessly around in the mud and rain."

"N—no," she said thoughtfully. "I suppose there's no sense in that."

"And of course you can't sit out here in the wet all night."

"That sounds comforting—propitious even," commented Helena.

"Quite!" agreed Thornton, laughing again. "Well, you wait here a moment, and I'll see if I can't knock up some sort of shelter—I used to be pretty good at that sort of thing."

"And I'll help," announced Helena, preparing to get out.

"By keeping at least your feet dry," he amended. "No—please. Just stay where you are, Miss Vail. You'll get as much protection here from the branches overhead as you will anywhere meanwhile, and you'll be more comfortable."

She watched him as he disappeared into the wood, and after that, like a flitting will-o'-the-wisp, watched his flashlight moving about amongst the trees. Then presently the cheery blaze of a fire from where he was at work sprang up, and she heard the crackle of resinous pine knots—then a great crashing about, the snapping of branches as he broke them from larger limbs—and a rapid fire of small talk from him as he worked.

Helena answered him more or less mechanically—her mind, roving from one consideration of their plight to another, had caught at a certain viewpoint and was groping with it. They were stalled more effectively than any accident to the car could have stalled them—they were there for the night, there seemed no escape from that. But there was nothing to be afraid of. She had no fears about passing the night alone with him here in the woods—why should she? Why should she! She laughed low, suddenly, bitterly. Why should she—even if he were other than the man he was, even if he were of the lowest type! Fear—of that! A yearning, so intense as for an instant to leave her weak, swept upon her—a yearning full of pain, of shame, of remorse, of hopelessness—oh, God, if only she might have had the right to fear! Then passion seized her in wild, turbulent unrestraint—hatred for this clean-limbed, pure-minded man, who flaunted all that his life stood for in her face—hatred for everybody in this life of hers, for all were good save her—hatred, miserable, unbridled hatred for herself.

And then it passed, the mood—and she tried to think more calmly, still answering him as he called from the woods. She had seen a great deal of Thornton lately—a great deal. He had been kind and thoughtful and considerate—nothing more. More! What more could there have been? Love! There was something of mockery in that, wasn't there? Everything she thought about lately, every way her mind turned seemed to hold something of mockery now. Of course, Mrs. Thornton's words expressing the wish that she and Thornton might come together had been often enough with her—mockingly again!—but Thornton could have known nothing of that—so, after all, what did that matter? She had snatched at every opportunity to motor with Thornton despite Doc's protests, protests that had grown sullen and angry of late—snatched at the opportunities eagerly, as she would snatch at a breath of air where all else stifled her—snatched at them because they took her out of herself temporarily, away from everything, where everything at times seemed to be driving her mad. Hate Thornton! No, of course, she didn't hate him—she had thought that a moment ago because—because her brain was—was—oh, she didn't know—so tired and weary, and she was cold now and quite wet. She didn't hate him, she even—

"All ready now—house to let furnished"—he was calling out, laughing as he came thrashing through the undergrowth—"excellent situation, high altitude, luxuriant pine grove surrounds the property, and—and"—he had halted beside the car and opened the door—"what else do they say?"

Helena caught his spirit—or, rather, forced herself to do so. It wasn't quite fair that one of them should do all the pretending.

"Flies," she laughed. "They always speak of flies in Maine."

"None!" said Thornton promptly. "There hasn't been one since the house was built. Now then, Miss Vail"—he held out his arms.

"Oh, but really, I can walk."

"And I can carry you," he said—and, from the step, gathered her into his arms.

And then, as she lay there passively at first, she seemed to sense again that curious diffidence, that gentleness, like the touch upon her throat of a little while ago, though now he held her in both his arms. How strong he was—and, oh, how miserably wet—her hand around his shoulder felt the thin shirt clinging soggily to his arm. Yes; she was glad he hadn't let her walk—it wasn't far, but she would have had to force her way continually through bushes that scattered showers from their dripping leaves, and underfoot she could hear his boots squash through the mud. And then suddenly it happened—the trees, just a yard or so from the fire, were thick together, tangled—she bent her head quickly, instinctively, to avoid a low-hanging branch as he for the same reason swerved a little—and their cheeks lay close-pressed against each other's, her hair sweeping his forehead, their lips mingling one another's breaths. He seemed to stumble—then his arms closed about her in a quick, fierce pressure, clasping her, straining her to him—relaxed as suddenly—and then he had set her down inside the shelter he had built.

Quick her breath was coming now, and across the fire for a moment she met his eyes. His face was gray, and his hands at his sides were clenched.

"I'll—I'll get the seat out of the car," he said hoarsely. "It will help to make things more comfortable." And turning abruptly, he started back for the road again.

Helena did not move. Mechanically her eyes took in the little hut, crude, but rainproof at least—branches heaped across two forked limbs for a roof; the trunk of a big tree for the rear wall; branches thrust upright into the ground for the sides—the whole a little triangular shaped affair. The fire blazed in front just within shelter at the entrance; and beside it was piled quite a little heap of fuel that he had gathered.

He came back bringing the leather upholstered seat, shook the rain from it, and dried it with the help of the fire and his handkerchief—then set it down inside the hut. His face was turned from her; and as he spoke, breaking an awkward silence, his voice was conscious, hurried.

"I'm not going to be gone a minute more than I can help, Miss Vail. It's mighty rough accommodation for you, but there's one consolation at least—you'll be perfectly safe."

Helena seated herself, and held her skirt to the fire.

"Gone!" she said, a little dully. "Where are you going?"

"Why, to get help of course," he told her.

"Help!"—she shook her head. "You don't know where to find any—you only know for a certainty that there isn't any within miles."

"I know there's a house back on the main road," he said. "I noticed it as we came along."

"That's seven or eight miles from here," she returned. "And it's raining harder than ever—mud up to your ankles—it would take you hours to reach it."

"Possibly two, or two and a half," he said lightly.

"Yes; and another two at least to get back. I won't hear of you doing any such thing—you are wet through now. It's far better to wait for daylight and then probably the storm will be over."

"But don't you see, Miss Vail"—his voice was suddenly grave, masterful—"don't you see that there is no other thing to do?"

"No," said Helena. "I don't see anything of the kind. I won't have you do anything like that for me—it's not to be thought of."

Thornton stooped, placed a knot upon the fire, straightened up—and faced her.

"It's awfully good of you to think of me," he said in a low tone; "but, really, it won't be half as bad as you are picturing it in your mind. And really"—he hesitated, fumbling for his words—"you see—that is—what other people might say—your—reputation—"

With a sudden cry, white-faced, Helena was on her feet, staring at him, her hands clutched at her bosom—a wild, demoniacal, mocking orgy in her soul. Her reputation! It seemed she wanted to scream out the words—her reputation!

Thornton's face flushed with a quick-sweeping flood of crimson.

"I'm a brute—a brute with a blundering tongue!" he cried miserably. "You had not thought of that—and I made you. I could have found another excuse for going if I had only had wit enough. I was a brute once before to-night, and—" He stopped, and for a moment stood there looking at her, stood in the firelight, his face white again even in the ruddy glow—and then he was gone.

Time passed without meaning to Helena. The steady patter of the rain was on the leaves, the sullen, constant drip of water to the ground, and now, occasionally, a rush of wind, a heavier downpour. She sat before the fire, staring into it, her elbows on her knees, her face held tightly in her hands, the brown hair, wet and wayward now, about her temples. Once she moved, once her eyes changed their direction—to fix upon her sleeve in a strange, questioning surprise.

"I let him go without his coat," she said.

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