It was evening of the same day—and there came a knock at the outer door of the cottage porch.

The Flopper answered it, and came back to the Patriarch's room; where the Patriarch sat in his armchair; where the lamp, turned low, throwing the little room into half shadow, burned upon the table; where Helena, far away from her immediate surroundings, quite silent and still, her own chair close beside the other's, nestled with her head on the Patriarch's shoulder.

Helena looked up as the Flopper returned.

Upon the Flopper's face was a curious expression—not one that in the days gone by had been habitual—it seemed to mingle a diffidence, a kindly solicitude and a sort of anxious responsibility.

"It's Thornton askin' fer youse," announced the Flopper.

Helena rose from her chair, and started for the door—but the Flopper blocked the way. Helena halted and looked at him in astonishment.

The Flopper licked his lips.

"Say, Helena," he said earnestly, "if I was youse I wouldn't go—say, I'll tell him youse have got de pip an' gone ter bed."

"Not go?" echoed Helena. "What do you mean?"

The Flopper scratched at his chin uneasily.

"Oh, you know!" he said. "De Doc let youse down easy ter-day. Say, if youse had piped his lamps when you drives up in de buzz-wagon dis afternoon youse wouldn't be lookin' fer any more trouble. Say, I'm tellin' youse straight, Helena. When I was out dere in de kitchen an' youse was in yer room wid him me heart was in me mouth all de time. Youse can take it from me, Helena, he let youse down easy."

Helena's brown eyes, a little wistfully, a little softly, held upon the Flopper.

"Yes?" she said quietly.

"Youse had better cut it out ter-night, Helena," the Flopper went on. "Y'oughter know de Doc by dis time—de guy dat starts anything wid de Doc gets his—dat's all! Remember de night he threw Cleggy down de stairs in de Roost?—an' he was only havin' fun! Say, you go out wid Thornton again ter-night an' de Doc finds it out—an' something'll happen. Say, Helena, fer God's sake, don't youse do it—de Doc was bad enough dis afternoon when he let youse down easy, but he's worse now, an'—"

"Worse?" Helena interrupted, smiling a little apathetically. "In what way is he worse? And how do you know? You haven't seen Doc, have you?"

"No," the Flopper answered, circling his lips with his tongue again. "No; I ain't seen de Doc since—but I seen Pale Face. Say, Helena"—the Flopper's words came stumbling out now, agitated, perturbed, not altogether coherent—"wot's de answer I dunno; I dunno wot's de matter here. Say"—he pointed suddenly to the Patriarch, whose face was turned toward them as he stroked thoughtfully at his silver beard—"he's got me fer fair—dere ain't no fake here—dis way ter live is de real t'ing—he ain't like you an' me—he's more'n dat—look at him now—youse'd t'ink he could see us, an' was listenin' ter wot we said. I dunno wot's de end—I dunno wot's de matter wid me. I was scared more'n ever out dere dis afternoon on de lawn, an' I thought mabbe God 'ud strike me dead—but 'tain't only dat I'm scared ter buck de game any more, 'tain't only dat—I don't wanter any more, an' it don't make no difference about de dough—I wanter live straight, same as him, same as de guys around here, same—same as Mamie. Say, Helena, say, do youse believe in love—in—in de real t'ing?"

Helena's apathy was gone now—a flush dyed her cheeks. She was not startled at what the Flopper had said—she had seen it coming, subconsciously, vaguely, mistily, for days now, only she had been immersed in herself—she was not startled, and yet, in a way, she was. The end! She too had been thinking about that—and she too did not know. What was the end?

"You were going to say something about Pale Face," she said, prompting the Flopper. "Something about Pale Face and Doc."

"Yes," said the Flopper, and again the tip of his tongue sought his lips nervously. "Dat's why I don't want youse ter go out wid Thornton ter-night. Pale Face has got it de same as me, an' he told de Doc dis afternoon, out in de path dere, after de Doc left de cottage here. Dere was a showdown—see? De Doc 'ud kill youse an' Thornton ter-night if he caught youse ter-gether. He's like a wild man. When Pale Face tells him he was goin' ter quit, de Doc makes a grab fer him by de t'roat like a tiger, only Pale Face gets away, an' den de Doc goes off widout a word, laughin' like he'd escaped out of a dippy-house. An' Pale Face was shakin' like he had a fit when he gets here. Say, Helena, don't youse go ter-night."

Helena made no answer for a moment. Thoughts, a world of them, confused her, crowded upon her, as they had ever since Madison had left her room a few hours ago—and the future was as some dread, bewildering maze through which she had tried to stumble and grope her way—and had lost herself ever deeper. How full of utter, miserable, bitter irony it was that this thing, unscrupulous and shameful, that they had created in their guilt should have brought the beauty and the glory and the yearning of a new life to her—and yet should chain her remorselessly to the old! True, she had broken with Madison, irrevocably, forever, she supposed, it could not be other than that, for the ugly bond between them was severed—but the game still went on! In repentance, on her bended knees, sobbing as a tired and worn-out child, she could ask for forgiveness; but the double life, the duplicity, by reason of the very nature in which they had fashioned this iniquitous monster, still went on, and like some hideous octopus reached out its waving, feeling tentacles to encircle her—the Patriarch there; the world-wide publicity, those poor creatures upon whose misery and whose suffering, upon whose frantic, frenzied snatching out at hope they had preyed and fed and gorged themselves; the life itself that she had taken up, in its minutiæ, in its care of this great-souled, great-hearted man so dear to her now, the life itself because it was what it was, changed though she herself might be, though her soul cried out against it in its new-found purity—all this still held her fast! The end—she could not see the end. What would Madison do—and there was Thornton. Thornton! She caught her breath a little. Yes; she had promised Thornton she would see him to-night—she knew well enough why he wanted to see her—last night had told her that—he loved her. Her face softened. Last night—it seemed a thousand years ago, and it seemed but as an instant passed—last night—she had learned what love was, and—

The Flopper stirred uneasily.

"Wot'll I tell him?" asked the Flopper. "He's waitin' out dere by de porch."

"Why—why nothing," said Helena, and she smiled a little tremulously at the Flopper. "Nothing. I'll—I'll go and see him."

"Say, Helena," protested the Flopper, "don't youse—"

But Helena stepped by him now.

"Don't leave the Patriarch," she cautioned, turning on the threshold. "I—I won't be late."

She passed down the little hall, through the still, quiet room beyond, empty now, through the porch, and out into the night—and then from out the shadows by the row of maples, Thornton came hurriedly toward her, holding out his hands.

"It's good of you to come, Miss Vail," he said, in his grave, quiet way. "You must be nearly dead with weariness after last night, and I am afraid I am not very thoughtful—only I—" he broke off suddenly. "Shall we sit here on the bench for a little while, or would you rather walk—I—I have something to say to you."

It was very dark—the storm of the night before still lingered in a wrack of flying clouds, scurrying one after the other, veiling the stars—and the moon was hidden—and hidden too was the sudden whiteness of Helena's face. She knew what he had to say, knew it before she had come to him—and yet she was there—and she had come resolutely enough—only now she was afraid.

"I would rather walk a little, I think," she said. "Here where—where I can be within call. My absence last night seems to have made the Patriarch very uneasy, you know, and—and—let us just walk up and down here beneath the maples in front of the cottage."

How heavy upon the air lay the fragrance of the flowers; how still the night was, save for the constant muffled boom of the breaking surf!—for a moment an almost ungovernable impulse swept upon her to make some excuse, anything, no matter how wild, a sudden faintness, anything, and run from him back into the cottage. And then she tried to think, think in a desperate sort of way of some subject of conversation that she might introduce that would stave off, postpone, defer the words that she knew were even now on his lips—nothing—she could think of nothing—only that she might have let the Flopper have his way, have let him tell Thornton that she had gone to bed with—the pip. The pip! She could have screamed out hysterically as the word flashed all unbidden upon her—it stood for a very great deal that word—her world of the years of yesterday. Could she never get away from that world; was it too late—already! Could she, even with all the earnestness, all the yearning that filled her soul, ever live it down, ever be what Naida Thornton had called her that night—a good woman! Could she—

Thornton was speaking now—how strange that she would have done anything, given anything to prevent his speaking—and done anything, given anything to make him speak! How strange and perplexed and dismayed her brain was! Love! Yes; she wanted love! God knew she wanted love such as his was—for he had shown her what love, free from abasing passion, in its purest sense, was. Like a glimpse of glory, hallowed, full of wondrous amazement, it came to her—and then her head was lowered, and the whiteness was upon her face again.

He had halted suddenly and detained her with his hand upon her arm—with that touch, so full of reverence, of fine deference, that had thrilled her before—that thrilled her now, awakening into fuller life these new emotions whose birth was in gladder, sweeter, purer aspirations.

"Miss Vail," he said, in a low voice, "there was a letter—a letter that Naida left—did you know of it?"

They were close together, and it was very dark—but was it dark enough to hide the crimson that she felt sweeping in a flood to her face! What was in that letter? Had Mrs. Thornton written as she had talked, or only about the Patriarch and the work in Needley? She had forgotten for the moment about the letter—if there were more in it than that, if it were about Thornton and herself and what Mrs. Thornton had hoped for between them, and she admitted knowledge of it, what would he think, what could he think of her! But to deny it—no, not now. Once, and this came to her in a little thrill of gladness, she would not have hesitated; but now it—it was—it was not that world of yesterday.

"Yes," she said faintly; "she told me that she had left a letter for you."

"It was about the work here," said Thornton gently. "Her whole soul seemed wrapt up in that—and she asked me as her last wish to do what she would have done if she had lived; and she spoke of you very beautifully." Thornton paused for a moment—then he laid his hands on Helena's shoulders—and she felt them tremble a little. "Miss Vail—Helena," he said, and his voice was full of passionate earnestness now, "I cannot say these things well—only simply. I came back here to take an interest in the work, for I too have it at heart—but I have more than that now—there is you—your dear self. I love you, Helena—you have come into my life until you are everything and all to me. Helena, look up at me—will you marry me, dear? Tell me what I long to hear. Helena, Helena—I love you!"

But Helena did not answer—only very slowly she raised her head. And his hands on her shoulders tightened, and he was drawing her gently toward him. Then he bent his head until it was close to hers, and his breath was upon her cheek as it had been that other night—and the longing to know that it was hers, a caress, pure in its motive, hers, snatched out of all that had gone before that sought to rob her of the right to ever know it, fascinated her, held her spellbound, possessed her. Closer his lips came to hers, closer, until they touched her—and then, with a cry, she sprang back, and her hands were fiercely pressed against her cheeks, her throbbing temples. Was she mad! Mad! Was it for this that she had forced herself to give him the opportunity to speak to-night, when her motive was so different, when it had seemed the only right thing left for her to do!

And now, still holding her temples, she raised her eyes to Thornton—he had stepped back like a man stricken, his hands dropped to his sides.

"I—we are mad!" she whispered.

"Helena!" he said in a numbed way; and again; "Helena!" Then, with an effort to control his voice: "You—you do not care—you do not love me?"

"No," she said—and thereafter for a long time a silence held between them.

Then Thornton spoke.

"Some day perhaps, Helena," he said, "you could learn to love me—for I would teach you. Perhaps now you feel that your whole duty lies here in this work to which you have so unselfishly given your life; but I would not hinder that, only try to help as best I could. Perhaps I have been abrupt, have spoken too soon—it is only a few weeks since I saw you first, but it seems as though in those few weeks I had come to know you as if I had known you all my life and—"

But now she interrupted him, shaking her head in a sad little fashion.

"You do not know me," she said. "Sometimes I think I do not know myself. Think! You do not know where I came from to join the Patriarch here; you have no single shred of knowledge about me; you do not know a single particular of my life before you knew me."

"I do not need to know," he answered gravely. "You are as genuine as pure gold is genuine—it is in your voice, your smile, your eyes. It is a crude simile perhaps, but one never asks where the pure gold was dug—it stands for itself, for what it is, because it is what it is—pure gold—at its face value."

The words seemed to stab at Helena, condemning, accusing; and yet, too, in a strange, vague way, they seemed to bring her a hope, a promise for the days to come—at face value! If she could live hereafter—at face value!

"Listen," she said, and her voice was very low. "I do not know how to say what I must say to you. Last night I knew that—that you loved me. I had not thought of you like that, in that way, until then, or—or I should have tried never to have let this hurt come to you. But last night I knew, and since then I have known that sooner or later you would—would tell me of it." She stopped for an instant—her eyes full of tears now. "And so," she went on presently, "I have let you speak to-night because it was better, it was even necessary that I should do so at once—because this could not go on—because you must go away and—"

"Necessary?" he repeated. "I—I do not understand."

"No," she said helplessly; "you do not understand—and I—I cannot explain. Oh, I do not know what to say to you, only that you must take what I say, as you have taken me—at face value."

"I do not understand," he said again. "Helena, I do not understand. Are you in trouble—tell me?"

"No," she said.

"But I cannot go away like this!" he cried out suddenly. "I cannot go and leave you, Helena. You have come into my life and filled it; and I cannot let you pass out of it—like this—without an effort to hold what has come to mean everything to me now. You may not love me now, but some day—"

She shook her head, interrupting him once more.

"There can never be a 'some day,'" she said. "Oh, I do not want to hurt you—you, to whom I owe more than you will ever know—but—but there can never be anything between us, and—and we are only making it harder for ourselves now—aren't we?"

And then he leaned abruptly toward her.

"Is there—some one else?" he asked in a strained voice.

And to Helena the question came as though it had been an inspiration given him—for after that he would ask no more, seek no more to understand, for he was too big and strong and fine for that; and even if it was hopeless now this love that she had known for Madison, even if it could never be again, still that love was hers, and she could answer truthfully.

"Yes," she said beneath her breath.

For a moment Thornton neither moved nor spoke. Then he held out his hand.

"Miss Vail," he said simply, "will you tell this 'some one else' that another man beside himself is the better for having known you. Good-night. And may God bring you happiness through all your life."

But she did not speak—they were standing by the rustic bench and she sank down upon it, and, with her head hidden in one arm outflung across the back of the seat, was sobbing softly.

And he stood and watched her for a little space, his face grave and white; then taking the hand that lay listlessly in her lap, he raised it to his lips—and turned away.

And so he left her—and so, because of this, he knocked upon another door that night, and all unwittingly gave to that "some one else" himself the message that he had asked Helena to deliver.

Madison, pacing his room like a caged beast, his teeth working upon the cigar that he had never thought to light, paid no attention to the summons until it had been repeated twice; then, with a glance around the room, his eyes lingering for a critical instant upon the trunks, closed now, the trays restored to their hiding places, he stepped to the door, unlocked it, and flung it open. And at sight of Thornton, mechanically, as second nature to him, outwardly, like a mask, there came a smile upon his working lips, a suave, unconcerned composure to his face; while inwardly, in his dazed, fogged brain where chaos raged, surged an impulse to fling himself upon the other, wreck a mad vengeance upon the man—and then swift upon the heels of this an impulse to refrain, for if Helena was straight why should he harm Thornton—and then the shuttle again—why should he not—hadn't Helena said that she had learned what love was last night—and last night she had been with Thornton. How his brain whirled! What had brought Thornton here, anyhow? If he stayed very long perhaps he would batter Thornton to jelly after all! Quick, almost instantaneous in their sequence came this wild jumble singing dizzily its crazy refrain through his mind—and then to his amazement he heard some one speaking pleasantly—and to his amazement it was himself.

"Come in, Thornton. Come in—and take a chair."

"Thanks," Thornton answered; and, entering the room, closed the door behind him. "No; I won't sit down—I shall only remain a moment."

The lamp was on the washstand, and, intuitively again, Madison shifted his position to bring his face into shadow—and leaned against the foot of the bed. He stared at Thornton, nodding—Thornton's face was white and exceedingly haggard—rather curious for Thornton to look that way!

"Madison," said Thornton abruptly, "I believe you to be a gentleman in the best sense of the word, and because of that, and because of the unusual circumstances that first brought us together and the mutual interests that have since been ours, I have come to you to-night to tell you, first, that I am going away from Needley and that I shall not return—and then to ask a service and repose a trust in you. You have said several times that you intended to remain here and take a personal and active part in the work?"

Madison removed the chewed cigar end from one corner of his mouth—and placed it in the other.

"Yes," said Madison.

"Then this is what I want to say," said Thornton seriously. "For my own sake, because it was my wife's wish, and for other reasons as well, my interest here, though I am going away, will be just as great as it has ever been; and so I want you to keep me thoroughly posted, and when the time comes that I can be of further material assistance to let me know. I impose only one condition—you are to say nothing to Miss Vail about it—you can make anything that I may do appear to come from yourself."

"Say nothing to Miss Vail!" repeated Madison vaguely—then a sort of ironic jest seemed to take possession of him: "But Miss Vail keeps all the funds."

"That is why I am asking you to represent me," said Thornton quietly. "I am afraid that she might have a natural diffidence about accepting anything more from me—I asked Miss Vail to marry me to-night, and she refused."

The cigar kind of slid down unnoticed from the corner of Madison's mouth—and he leaned forward, hanging with a hand behind him to the bedpost—and stared at Thornton.

"You—what!" he gasped.

"Yes; I know," Thornton answered—and moved abruptly toward the door. "Love makes one's temerity very great—doesn't it? I asked her to marry me—because I loved her." He came back from the door and held out his hand, "I've told you what I would tell no other man, Madison. You understand now why—and you'll do this for me?"

What answer Madison made he never knew himself—he only knew that he was staring at the door after Thornton had gone out, and that he wanted to laugh crazily. Marry Helena! Thornton had asked Helena to marry him because he loved her. God, there was humor here! His brain itself seemed to cackle at it—marry Helena!

And then suddenly there seemed no humor at all—only black, infamous shame and condemnation—and he straightened up from where he leaned against the bedpost, his face set and strained.

"Thornton had asked Helena to marry him because he loved her"—the words came slowly, haltingly, aloud—and then he covered his face with his hands. But he, he who loved her too—what had he done!

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