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A Tragedy in Black and White and Other Stories

Helen—a Sketch

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Helen—a Sketch.

It was a lovely summer morning, and the pretty garden of Fetherston Rectory was a blaze of gay flowers and velvety turf. Helen Graham, the niece of the old rector, was strolling leisurely round the paths, stopping here and there to gather some choice bloom and add it to the dewy bunch already in her hand. Presently she reached the low entrance gate, and stood leaning her arms on the top bar, waiting till the postman should appear. She was a handsome girl, tall and straight, graceful with the grace which always accompanies a well-proportioned figure. Her grey eyes looked fearlessly out from thick black lashes, and her brown hair as it caught the rays of the sun was transformed into ruddy gold.

After waiting five minutes or so, Helen grew impatient, and muttering “Stupid old thing, he gets later every day,” she unlatched the gate and walked to the corner of the lane, whence she could see the length of the village street. Ah! there was the postman, close to her, and blushing at being thus detected, she turned and walked back towards the gate. But before she reached it the asthmatic old man overtook her, and wheezing out “Fine mornin', miss,” gave her a bundle of letters. Helen returned his greeting, and made enquiry after his asthma, but did not, perhaps, pay as much attention to his reply, as she might have done, had not her eyes been fixed eagerly on a letter, addressed in a bold hand to

Miss Graham,

Care of Rev. F. Graham,

Fetherston Rectory,

South Devon.

“I'm very sorry, Thomas. Send your little girl up to the rectory, and I'll give her something for you. Don't page 44 forget,” and, with a smiling nod, she closed the gate and was at liberty to open the letter which had so distracted her attention.

Let us look over her shoulder.

My Darling Nell

“Just a line to tell you that I can get away for a month, so hurrah for Fetherston. I have some good news for you, at least I hope you will think so. West and Norton have offered to take me into partnership, and I must see Uncle Frank about the money part of the business. But the best part is, that now, dearest, I think I shall be justified in asking him to give you to me. I know how you have hated all this concealment, but how could I, a poor lawyer, ask for the hand of a millionaire like you. Now, if I get into partnership with these fellows, I hope I shall soon be making a nice little income, and, in less than a year we'll be married, and we can put away your £10,000 in an old stocking for a rainy day. Talking of marriage, has that little flirt, Flossy Whyte, caught Mr. Simpson yet? Give her my love, and tell her to ask me to the wedding. I shall be down on Friday; couldn't you meet me? Till then, take care of yourself, my darling, for the sake of your loving


Helen read the letter through and then again, a loving smile curving her pretty mouth. Perhaps she pressed the paper to her lips, but we will not be too inquisitive. At all events, when she arrived at the open French window of the breakfast room, she looked so bright and happy that her aunt involuntarily exclamed, “Gracious me, child! how well you look this morning.”

“Any letters to-day?” said the rector, pausing with his cup in mid-air.

“Two for Aunt Mary, and one for you from Jack. I got a note from him, too, saying that he is coming down on Friday.”

“Friday!” interrupted Mrs. Graham. “Dear, dear, that's to-morrow; and the blue room must be got ready. page 45 So like Jack, to give us no notice. Excuse me my dears, but I must go and see about it;” and the old lady bustled away, anxious that all should be in apple-pie order to welcome her prime favourite—that rising young lawyer, Mr. John Steyne.

Helen finished her breakfast, and then putting on her hat went to call on her bosom friend, the Miss Florence Whyte, before alluded to, who lived with her widowed mother in a pretty cottage, about a mile from the Rectory. While Helen is walking thither, let us explain a little more fully who she is, and what relation she bears to Mr. Steyne.

Her father was a younger brother of the Rev. Frank Graham's, who married an heiress, all of whose money he spent, except £10,000 settled on the children. His wife died after two years of unhappiness, when Helen was born. Not that she was ill-treated by her husband. Far from it; in his selfish way, Gerald Graham was very fond of his delicate wife, only—he was handsome, gay, and very popular with both men and women, while she was not strong enough to go out with him, but could only fret in loneliness at home. After her death, Mr. Graham sent the baby to the care of his brother, and embarked on a voyage to India, but his ship never arrived at its destination. Helen, however, found the kindest of parents in her uncle and his wife, and grew up with only passing thoughts of regret for the father and mother she had never known.

In the holiday time the rectory was enlivened by the presence of a daring, good-tempered school boy, whom Helen called her cousin, though, as he was the nephew of her uncle's wife, he was in truth no relation. He, also, had lost his parents when young, and divided his holidays between the rectory and Steyne Court, where his uncle, Sir James Steyne, lived. Here there were a great many true cousins, but somehow the boy seemed to find a greater attraction in the little Devonshire village, and, as the years went by and Helen shot up into a graceful girl, the attraction became stronger, till every spare moment the young man could find was spent at Fetherston. So gradual, however, was the growth of the affection between the two, that it page 46 was only on hearing from Mrs. Graham of Helen's refusal of a most eligible offer, that Jack awoke to the fact that his chief hope in life was to make Helen his wife.

Helen herself had never in her letters mentioned the proposal and rejection of Mr. Dunbar, from a feeling that it would not be fair to him. Besides, the rejected suitor, when begging her to reconsider her decision, had asked if he had been forestalled by anyone. Helen had shaken her head and said “No.” But the vivid blush which had spread over her face from neck to forehead had convinced Mr. Dunbar that his suit was hopeless more effectually than any words could. Mrs. Graham, rather indignant at Helen's decided refusal of such an excellent offer, had questioned her somewhat severely, but had only elicited the unsatisfactory answer that “she didn't kuow, only she did not want to marry yet.” But Helen did not attempt to deny to herself that it was the involuntary and uncomplimentary comparison of Mr. Dunbar with Jack Steyne that had been the cause of the former's dismissal.

Such being the respective states of mind of the two young people, it was no wonder that Jack had shortly paid a visit to the Rectory, and told Helen all his hopes and fears. Her reply (they had been reading “The Tempest” together) was to quote Miranda's speech to Ferdinand,

“I am your wife, if you will marry me;
If not, I'll die your maid: to be your fellow
You may deny me; but I'll be your servant,
Whether you will or no.”

Which answer, though somewhat lengthy, seemed to give satisfaction.

They decided to keep the engagement secret till Jack should be making a fair income, which he hoped to do in a year or so. They had always corresponded, and the increased frequency of their letters caused but little remark. Matters had been going on in this way for about six months when the letter which we took the liberty of reading arrived, and Helen set out on her walk to Myrtle Cottage.

Mrs. Whyte and her daughter Florence, had been living in the village some seven or eight months. The mother was a little vivacious woman, who must in her youth have been page 47 very pretty; the daughter was pale, and at first sight seemed quite plain; the second time you saw her you probably said her face had something attractive in it, and the third time, if you liked her, your verdict would be that she was a very pretty girl. She was slight and delicate, much given to lavishing terms of endearment upon her friends, and to emphasising her most ordinary remarks.

She and Helen had struck up a great friendship, chiefly due to the fact that Miss Whyte, who was a most observant young lady, had, by a system of ingenious pumping, succeeded in drawing from Helen an acknowledgment of her engagement to Jack Steyne. In return, she had confided to Helen all the particulars of her own love affairs, including a full account of the latest, an engagement between herself and a penniless youth for whom she intended to wait, spite of stony-hearted parents, till he should have made his fortune, or “till death,” as she would impressively end her sentence. Helen believed in, and sympathised with her, and the two girls took many walks together, talking of their respective lovers and their future lives.

It sometimes struck Helen as inconsistent with her friend's professions of undying love for the absent Frederick, that she should receive with apparent complaisance the frequent attentions of a certain Mr. Simpson, a self-made man, with much wealth and little education, who lived about a couple of miles away. Still, Flossie always answered her remonstrances by pleading that her mother was old, and accustomed to luxuries that they could not afford now, and where was the harm of using Mr. Simpson's carriage, eating his grapes and accepting sundry other little attentions. Helen was not quite convinced, but nevertheless defended her friend bravely, when Jack, with the coarseness of the masculine mind, suggested that Miss Whyte was trying to “catch” the H-less millionaire, and should she succeed, would throw over the unfortunate Frederick.

After this digression, let us return to Helen who strolled slowly down the street, stopping every now and then to exchange a cheery word or two with one of the page 48 villagers, with all of whom she was a great favourite. Presently she turned into a shady lane, steep and stony, like most Devonshire lanes. In about a quarter of an hour she arrived at a small white gate, which she opened, and passing through, walked at a rather quicker pace up a gravel path ending in two or three stone steps. Mounting these, she walked along a pretty verandah, thickly hung with creepers, till she came to a French window, where she tapped on the glass.

“Is that you, darling?” said a voice from inside, and Miss Whyte appeared, looking cool and pretty in a pale lilac cambric. “I thought yon were never coming again,” she went on, kissing Helen very effusively. “Come in and rest. I've lots to talk about; I've just got a letter from dear Fred.”

Helen smiled and blushed a little as she answered, “Well, to say the truth, I came to tell you that I had a note from Jack this morning, and he is coming down tomorrow.”

“To-morrow! dear girl, I am so glad for your sake. But alas! I shall never see anything of you now. I know Mr. Steyne can't bear me.”

“Nonsense, Flossie,” said Helen hastily and rather guiltily as she thought of Jack's somewhat outspoken comments on her friend, “how can you be so silly. Besides,” she added naïvely, “he shall like you; I will make him.”

“I wish you could, darling,” sighed Flossie, thinking to herself—“Yes, he shall like me, but I don't think it will be all your doing, Miss Helen.”

“Now,” she continued, we'll take some chairs and a basket of cherries out under the trees and have a real good talk.”

Helen assented, though she knew that the “real good talk” would probably be on one side.

“Where's Mrs. Whyte?” she asked, as she sank into a low wicker chair.

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“Mamma,” said Flossie carelessly, picking out a particularly ripe cherry, “Oh! she's got a headache, and isn't up yet. Never mind her, Helen, just listen to this,” pulling out a bulky envelope as she spoke. “Isn't it sweet of Fred, to write such long letters?” And she proceeded to read the same aloud, duly emphasising the endearing expressions, and stopping occasionally to invite Helen's admiration of some specially lover-like sentiment. This was by no means the first letter she had read to Helen, who hated listening, but did not like to refuse, fearing to hurt her friend's feelings. She did not listen very attentively, and was just picturing to herself Jack's arrival on the morrow, when lifting her eyes, she saw her uncle's gardener and general factotum coming hastily up the path.

“Why, there's Jones,” she exclaimed. “Excuse me, Flossie, I must go and see what he wants.” She crossed the lawn as she spoke, and Jones, seeing her, hurried towards her, his honest brown face looking scared and troubled.

“Oh, Miss Helen!” he exclaimed, “you are to go home directly, the master has had a bad accident.”

“An accident; my uncle,” faltered Helen, turning pale—“What has happened? Never mind, don't wait now, you can tell me as we go. Good-bye, Flossie. I can't stop, I'll let you know later,” and she ran down the path, the faithful Jones following.

Flossie stood watching her. Helen's innocent speech about Jack Steyne evidently rankled in her mind, for she repeated to herself, “So he tells you he doesn't like me! Very good, my dear. You said he was coming for a month. When that month is over we shall see.” Then she returned to the sofa and novel whence Helen's visit had roused her.

“Now, Jones,” said Helen, as the steepness of the lane forced her to slacken her pace, “tell me about the accident.”

“Well, you see Miss, Dr. Barton called this morning for the master. He wanted him to go and see Mrs. Munro, who's dying, and said as how he'd drive him there hisself. He had that new 'orse of his in the gig, and just page 50 as master was steppin' in, the 'orse, I alwis said he was a wicious brute, commenced to kick and plunge, and master lost his 'librium and fell back'ards against the door-step. Thank the Lord, the doctor was there, and we carried him in, and I came straight off for you.”

Helen shuddered as she asked, “Did the doctor say anything?”

“He said as how he feared 'twere discussion of the brain the master had. Everythin's topsy-turvy, and the missus is in a great way. She told me to telegraph for Mr. Jack so soon as I'd fetched you.”

Helen said no more, but, the top of the hill being reached, she sped swiftly on till she came to the rectory where, as Jones had said, she found everything in confusion.

The doctor was just going. “I can do nothing more just now,” he said, drawing on his gloves—“but I'll come again this evening. Ah! Helen, my dear; just the person I wanted. I am going to send a nurse for your uncle, and you must try and soothe your aunt. It is a dreadful shock to her, poor soul, and she will want almost as much care as the rector.” Then the doctor drove away, and Helen went upstairs, feeling as though the day had suddenly turned cold and bleak, and longing with all her heart for Jack's arrival.

Mr. Steyne came by the late train that evening, having received an urgent telegram from the faithful Jones. He found the rector still unconscious, and although he could be of no use in the sick-room where a professional nurse now reigned, still his presence was invaluable to Helen, as he had great influence over his aunt, whom he, at last, persuaded to go to bed. Helen went with her to see that she was comfortable, and half-an-hour afterwards, returned to the drawing-room, where she found Jack eagerly waiting for her.

“My darling, how pale you look,” he exclaimed, drawing her down beside him on the broad sofa.

“Yes, I'm dreadfully tired and upset, but I feel almost happy now you have come, dear”—nestling close to him page 51 as she answered. Thereupon ensued a low conversation, which, however interesting to the lovers themselves, might prove somewhat wearisome to outsiders.

The redoubtable Mr. Steyne, who has hitherto reversed the excellent precept given to little children, and has been heard of but not seen, was by no means remarkable in appearance. Helen thought him perfection, but the casual observer saw no more in him than in any other fairly good-looking, well set-up young Englishman of twenty-seven or thereabouts. However, the rector said that he was “a gentleman every inch of him, and a good fellow into the bargain,” so we may conclude that Helen had some grounds for supposing herself the luckiest of girls.

After conversing for a while in that sublimely selfish strain known only to lovers, the young people found time to speak of their neighbours. Amongst others, Flossie Whyte was mentioned, and Helen gave an account of all her sayings and doings, winding up with, “I'm so sorry for her, Jack. I'm sure her Fred. isn't so nice as—–.” Here there was a short pause, then Helen resumed, “By the way, she is very unhappy because she thinks you don't like her. You don't, do you? But I wish you would try to, if it's only to please me.”

“I'll make violent love to her if you like,” Jack answered obligingly, kissing Helen's hand as he spoke.

“Well I'm not sure that I should like that, but you needn't laugh at her and mock at her love affairs. You wouldn't like me to be laughed at for loving you.”

“You! No, indeed, but then you are quite different. My dear girl, Flossie Whyte is a most arrant flirt. You needn't waste your pity on a girl without any real feeling. However, I'll be civil to her if it will please you.”

“That's a good boy. You shall begin to-morrow by going down to the cottage to tell them how Uncle Frank is getting on. I promised to send. And now, good night, dear, I must go and see how he is.” And she hurried away, feeling very guilty that the presence even of her lover could make her forget her uncle's critical condition.

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Chapter II.

Next morning found the rector in much the same condition as the preceding day. He was conscious to a certain extent, but did not seem to recognise anyone. Helen, herself, was fully occupied in attending on her aunt, who had given way completely, the sudden shock of her husband's accident having made her so nervous and depressed that she could not bear to lose sight of her niece. Mr. Steyne was, therefore, thrown on his own resources, and employed part of his morning in walking down to the cottage, as he had promised Helen, to give the Whytes the latest news of the rector. He found Flossie very sympathetic, and, when, after staying half-anhour or so, he rose to go, she would “not ask him to stay to lunch as dear Helen would be so anxious, but she would walk up to the rectory that evening and try and persuade Helen to go out. It was so bad for her health staying in all day, and perhaps she herself might be allowed to sit with Mrs. Graham, so as to relieve the dear girl.”

Jack found himself wondering, as he walked home, how it was he had never noticed before that Miss Whyte was rather a pretty girl; she had improved immensely in the last few months. “Don't suppose she is as fond of Helen as she pretends to be, and she certainly is a flirt, but after all, I daresay the girl has some good in her.” Then he lit his pipe, and dismissed Miss Whyte from his thoughts for the next few hours.

Helen came down at lunch time for half-an-hour, but was obliged to return to her aunt directly afterwards. However, about five, Miss Whyte made her appearance according to promise, and, Mrs. Graham having consented to a change of attendants, Helen was able to go out for a stroll with Jack. When they returned after a lengthy absence, common politeness demanded that Mr. Steyne should escort Miss Whyte home, and having done so, it was but natural that he should linger a short time in the cool, pretty garden before returning to the rectory. This day might be taken as an example of the ensuing fortnight.

For the first week there was no perceptible improvement in the rector's state, then he gradually began to recognise page 53 people, and seemed pleased when either Helen or Jack was in the room, but perfect qurte being essential, he was not allowed many visitors. Mrs. Graham still continued ailing, and Helen, having to attend on her and also to the various household duties, was unable to devote much time to Jack till the evening. Miss Whyte repeated her offer to sit with Mrs. Graham, but it was declined, Mrs. Graham pettishly refusing to see “that girl” whom she had never liked. Mr. Steyne was therefore obliged to amuse himself as best he might. He got into the habit of walking to the cottage every morning to give an account of the rectory invalids. Once there, there was no reason why he should hurry away—the drawing-room was cool, Miss Whyte was pretty and attentive. She had a good voice and sang well, Mr. Steyne was fond of music, and had rather a nice tenor; thus the morning would slip away so quickly that lunch-time would come, and Mr. Steyne was easily persuaded to stay for that meal. After lunch he would, by special invitation, smoke a pipe in the garden. Finally he and Miss Whyte would walk up to the rectory together. Helen was surprised and pleased at Jack's evident efforts to obey her commands and be agreeable to her friend; and when he told her that Miss Whyte wasn't at all a bad sort of girl, she was much gratified, and said triumphantly: “I was sure you would like her when you knew her well.”

One day Helen got a holiday, and the three went out boating, an amusement of which she and Jack were passionately fond, and which Miss Whyte said she adored. But somehow the expedition was a failure. Helen was tired, and not in her usual spirits; and the other two, though they talked and laughed, felt the influence of that undefinable cloud which sometimes mars our pleasure under the most favourable circumstances. When they parted at the cottage gate, some suggestion was made as to repeating the excursion next day, which was eagerly seconded by Miss Whyte. Helen said she should not be able to go, but added, “That's no reason why you two shouldn't go; I daresay you can be trusted to look after each other.”

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“Oh yes, indeed!” came simultaneously from the lips of the others; and Helen, looking up, laughing at the coincidence, caught a glance passing between them which made her feel vaguely uneasy, she hardly knew why. So it was arranged that Miss Whyte and Mr. Steyne should go out on the morrow, weather permitting.

That evening, when the lovers were enjoying their usual tÉte-à-tÉte, Helen was very restless, and at last, with an effort, broke a somewhat prolonged silence.

“Jack,” she said, “I want to ask you something.”

“Well, dear, what is it?”

“Don't think I'm silly or jealous, or anything of that sort; but, Jack!” speaking very rapidly, and with her face turned away from him, “are you quite sure you want to marry me still? Do you still care for me?”

Jack was thoroughly startled. Rising, he put his arm round Helen's waist.

“You silly girl,” he said, “what put that idea into your head?”

“Oh! I don't know; but men do change sometimes, and,” in a low whisper, “Flossie is very attractive.”

“Jealous! “Well, Helen, I thought you trusted me more than that. Surely you are not going to fret every time I speak civilly to another girl. Besides, was it not your own wish that I should make friends with Miss Whyte? To please you I cultivate her acquaintance, and then you turn round and say I am fickle and deceitful. I am very much disappointed, Helen. I thought you were above that sort of thing,” turning with dignity.

Poor Helen was quite subdued. She had had no real reasons for the little outburst which had called forth such righteous indignation. She told herself that Jack was quite right, it was she who had thrown him into Miss Whyte's society, and she ought not to be so suspicious. So she went softly across the room to the arm-chair in which the justly offended young gentleman had seated himself, and bending down, whispered in his ear, “I am so very sorry I annoyed page 55 you, dear. I am rather tired to-night, that's why I am so cross. You know I do trust you really. Please forgive me.”

“Of course, my pet, we won't say anything more on the subject. Only don't talk like that again. It is the first time you have shown jealousy, and I hope it will be the last.” Thus Jack, judicially; then softening as he caught sight of her woe-begone face, “Now, give me a kiss, dear, and forget all about it.”

Helen went off to bed, feeling rather as if she had been dismissed with a caution, and repeating to herself, “I do trust him thoroughly, it is so silly to be jealous.”

Left to himself, Mr. Steyne smoked at least three pipes, thinking deeply all the while. As he rose and knocked out the ashes of the last one he muttered, “She certainly would fool any man who wasn't on his guard, but there is no danger with me. Helen is worth ten of her. Don't think I'll go out boating with her to-morrow. However, we'll see.”

Despite his half-formed resolution of the preceding night, Mr. Steyne went out boating next day with Miss Whyte. He did, indeed, announce at breakfast that he thought of giving up the expedition, but Helen, anxious to make up for her unworthy suspicions, begged him so earnestly to go, saying that otherwise she should think he was still angry, that he finally consented not to disappoint Miss Whyte. Helen, left at home, tried to employ herself with her duties, but her fancy was continually flying away to the little boat rocking on the blue sea, or to the shady cove, where a search for ferns was to be prosecuted during the afternoon. However, she greeted Jack cheerily when he came in, and as he was in excellent spirits they spent a very happy evening. The next day Mr. Steyne spent entirely at the rectory, devoting himself as much as possible to Helen, and her peace of mind was entirely restored. Although Mr. Graham was getting better, Helen was still very much occupied, especially as the rector, who was slowly recovering his reason, liked to have her in his room, where she used to sit and work. Thus she felt that page 56 being unable to entertain her lover herself, she ought not to grudge his finding amusement elsewhere. One day, about a week after the lovers' little tiff, the doctor had paid his visit, and pronounced his patient to be progressing favourably, Jack had gone out for a walk, and Helen was sitting with her aunt, when there was a loud ring at the front door.

“A telegram, Miss, for Mr. Jack.”

Helen took it, and as her aunt had just fallen asleep, thought she would look for Jack, who was probably in the village, and give it to him.

It was a lovely morning, and delighted to find herself in the open air, she strolled slowly along, her spirits rising at every step.

At the little village shop she stopped to ask if Mr. Steyne had been there. Yes, he had, and on leaving had turned down the lane leading to Myrtle Cottage. Thither Helen bent her way.

Arrived there, she pushed open the little gate and went straight to the drawing-room window. No one was inside. “Out in the garden, I suppose,” she thought, and turned off across the lawn. She remembered a certain favourite seat of Miss Whyte's, which was approached by two paths, one a short cut through the bushes. This she chose mechanically, as it was the one she and her friend always used. As she drew near she caught a glimpse of a white dress, and knew that her search had been successful. A few steps further and she could see the bench and the occupants thereof, who, however, were too much engrossed to hear her soft step.

Truly it was a pretty picture.

The bright sun, glinting through the leaves, shone in ever restless patches on the white dress and upturned face of a lovely girl. Her head was resting on her companion's shoulder, and he was looking down at her with evident admiration.

It is to be doubted, however, if the solitary spectator of the scene appreciated the beauty of it. A girl must have page 57 an uncommon sense of the picturesque to fully enjoy the sight of another woman in her lover's arms, however intrinsically beautiful the situation may be.

Helen was stunned. All the vague suspicious and jealousies which had been floating in her mind came back with overwhelming power. She stood motionless, unable to go on, equally unable to turn back, only watching with eager eyes. She had a dim feeling that it was mean thus to play the spy, but it was overcome by a burning curiosity to see the end of the little drama. Presently Miss Whyte's voice was audible.

“Then you do not hate me now, Jack.”

There was a slight triumphant ring in this speech which the enraptured Jack did not notice.

Hate you, Flossie!” he said, and Helen, with madness raging in her heart, watched him bend down till his lips touched Flossie's. She had heard and seen enough now, and without a word or sign that could betray her presence, she turned and went away, walking like one in a dream. She met nobody on her way back to the rectory, and only when Martha, the parlour-maid, asked if she had found Mr. Jack, did she remember the telegram which had been the cause of her taking the fatal walk. She placed it on the hall table, and telling Martha that Mr. Jack would probably be out to lunch, she went up to her own room and, locking the door, flung herself on the bed, and gave herself up to bitter thoughts.

Late in the afternoon she heard Jack's step in the hall Then her name was called. Jumping up, she seized her hat and ran hastily down the backstairs. She felt she could not face him just at that moment, and took refuge in the garden. She had been there for about half-an-hour, when she heard the sound of wheels, apparently going away. She looked cautiously out through the shrubs, and was greatly surprised to see Jack in the rectory trap, driving very fast. Going back to the house, she interviewed Martha, who told her that Mr. Jack had been in, got his telegram, and looked everywhere for her. Not finding her, he had packed a small bag and gone away, page 58 leaving a message to say that he was called to town on urgent business, but hoped to be back in a couple of days.

Under the circumstances, his departure was a great relief to Helen. She was very distrait for the rest of the day, and was glad when she was able to retire for the night, though she was by no means sleepy. Hour after hour she sat in her room thinking. At last she rose, her mind made up. She would not condemn the culprits without a hearing, but she would see Flossie first, and beg her to say if she and Jack really cared for each other. If Flossie said yes, then she would write to Jack and break off her engagement. Then she went to her desk and took out her treasures, a bundle of letters, a couple of photographs, and a tiny lock of hair. As she touched the hair, she remembered in a flash all the circumstances connected with it; how Jack had asked for a piece of her hair and she gave him a long wavy bit, saying she must have a piece of his in exchange; how they had laughed over the difficulty of finding a satisfactory lock, Jack, like most men, shaving his head as though he had just come out of prison; how she had said that it was very unlucky to exchange locks of hair, and Jack's reply that no bad luck should ever come between him and her. “We never thought of Flossie Whyte,” she murmured bitterly, “I suppose he has a lock of her hair, I wonder if it is tied up with mine.” Then altering her tone, she cried, “It can't be true, it is a bad dream; he must care for me still. I am just the same as when he said he loved me, and I love him, ah! I love him more than ever.”

But the scene in the Whytes' garden rose again before her eyes, and she knew it was no dream. “He would not kiss another girl if he loved me,” she reasoned.

You see she was an ignorant young woman, and had no idea that a man could really love and be engaged to one girl and yet have no scruples about administering such delicate little attentions to another.

The letters and photographs she tied up together, meaning to burn them, but she hesitated long over the hair, page 59 finally putting it back into her desk. Then she went to bed, but did not sleep till nearly morning, when thoroughly worn out, she dropped into a heavy slumber.

Chapter III.

Helen was awakened, next morning, by Martha bringing her a cup of tea and a note from Miss Whyte saying she hoped Helen and Mr. Steyne would go down to the cottage that afternoon if Helen could get away. “She seems to have no doubt about Jack's going,” thought Helen, “I suppose she asked me thinking I should be unable to go. I fear she will be disappointed.”

She dressed, and went to see her aunt, then she spent an hour with the rector, who was much better. He asked to see Jack, and on being told that he was away, said: “Indeed, but I fancy he will not stay long, eh, my dear? Do you know, Helen, I have long thought that you and he had a liking for each other. Well, you could not do better; I would trust Jack, even with my little Nell.” Helen shivered, it was like having a wound probed, and she went hastily out of the room, on pretence of having some work to do.

After lunch, she saw her aunt was comfortably settled for the afternoon, and then, telling her where she was going, set out for the cottage. At the gate Miss Whyte met her.

“Dearest Helen, how delightful to see you! I am so glad you were able to leave. But where is J—— Mr. Steyne?”

“He has gone to town for a day or two, and I have come to have a long talk with you.”

“That will be delicious, dear. Don't go into the house; Mamma has an ancient friend who came to lunch, and apparently means to stay to supper. Let us go to the bench in the shrubbery.”

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Helen negatived this proposal with much decision, giving as her reason that she did not want to be interrupted. “We will go down to Jackdaw's Cove,” she said.

“Very well,” said Flossie, “and I will take my sketchbook. Just wait while I fetch it, and tell Mamma where we are going.”

Helen assented, and in a few minutes Miss Whyte was fully equipped, and they set off.

It was a most glorious afternoon. The sky, innocent of the tiniest cloud, was only less blue than the sea, which lay calm and sparkling. So smooth was it that the little ripples, too small to be called waves, crept softly up the sand, as though they loved the warmth, and were loth to end their short life and return to their parent ocean. A mile or two out were some fishing boats, their ruddy brown sails idly flapping against the masts, and far on the horizon were the white wings of a homeward-bound vessel, spreading all her canvas to catch what breeze she might.

The two girls stood for a minute on the edge of the cliff, enjoying the beauty of the scene. Then Helen turned and looked behind her at the village nestling in a little valley and bowered in trees. The church stood on a hill, its square gray tower serving as a landmark for the fishermen for many miles round. She gazed long and earnestly, thinking she had never seen the place look so lovely, and then without a word led the way along the break-neck path which wound down the face of the cliff. Miss Whyte followed in silence. During the first part of their walk she had chattered gaily, but had met with so little encouragement from her companion that she had given up the effort to make conversation. Besides, she had a feeling that a storm was impending. She had no idea that her friend had been a witness of the little episode in the garden; she merely imagined that Helen begrudged her lover spending so much time with her (Flossie), and she rather looked forward to the encounter.

When they reached the bottom of the path they found themselves in a small rocky bay or cove, as these tiny indents of the coast are called in Devon. Helen seated page 61 herself on a large boulder, but Flossie suggested that they should go round the point, which they accordingly did. This next cove was rather larger, and not so rocky. It was also considerably deeper, the cliff jutting out at each point so as to form a deep semicircle. The cliff here was quite inaccessible, even to the most skilful climber, and at the further side there was a small cave which in former days had been a favourite resort of Helen's and Jack's. Arrived here, Flossie sat down on the sand about the middle of the cave, with her back against the cliff, and began arranging her sketching materials. Helen watched her for a short time, and then flung herself down beside her.

“Please put away those things for a moment,” she said, “I want to speak to you.”

“Can't you talk while I am painting? It must be very important,” rejoined Flossie, airily, still mixing her colours.

“It is important, at least to me,” said Helen, earnestly, and Miss Whyte, looking up into her face, was struck by the sad, grave look it wore. She put down her brush and folded her hands in her lap as a sort of protest against her enforced idleness. There was silence for a minute or so, then Helen said abruptly:

“You knew that I was engaged to Jack Steyne.”

“So you told me, my dear, Mr. Steyne never mentioned the fact.”

“Therefore you thought it wasn't true?”

“Well I fancied perhaps you had taken things more seriously than was intended by Mr. Steyne. For you know, my dear,” continued Flossie, with an air of great candour, “he is a dreadful flirt.”

Helen winced. To hear Jack, whom she had always looked up to as a model of all manly virtues, described by that most unmanly epithet “flirt,” was too much for her. She said hastily:

“But at all events you knew that I loved him, and that he cared for me till—till you took him away from me.”

Miss White was secretly much gratified by this tribute to her powers, but thought proper to appear indignant.

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“Took him from you, Helen? What do you mean? Why, it was your own wish we should be friends, and yet you grudge my showing him the commonest civilities.”

Helen smiled rather grimly.

“Your ideas must be remarkably liberal,” she said, “if they include kissing among the ordinary civilities of life.”

Miss Whyte was startled out of her self-possession.

“How do you know anything about that?” she exclaimed. “Who told you?”

“Nobody; I saw you,” answered Helen, curtly.

“But when? where?”

“Yesterday. I brought a telegram for Jack. You were not in the house, so I looked in the garden, but when I found you I did not like to disturb you, you looked so happy.”

“Really, Helen,” (with an air of grieved surprise), “I did not think you would play the spy in that way.”

This was carrying the war into the enemy's country with a vengeance. Helen's self-control vanished, and she sprang up with flashing eyes.

“Play the spy!” she cried indignantly, “How dare you say such a thing! It is you who are dishonourable; you lure my lover away from me, and make him as false as yourself. Tell me the truth. Did he ever kiss you before?”


“Did he ever say he was tired of me, did he make love to you?”


“I guessed as much,” interrupted Helen, “And all this time, while I, like a fool, have trusted you both, you have been deceiving me. I will never marry him, and I will never forgive you.”

So saying, she walked rapidly away across the sand, and disappeared into the cave.

Miss Whyte looked after her: “Really, she is quite tragic,” she murmured. “I had no idea she would take it so much to heart. Of course, it's all nonsense about not page 63 marrying Jack Steyne. She will forgive him soon enough, especially when I've told her about Mr. Simpson. Let me see, where is his letter?”

She hunted in her pocket, and drew thence an official-looking document, with a huge crest emblazoned on paper and envelope. This contained a formal proposal from Mr. Simpson. Miss Whyte read it through, then folding it again: “Heigho!” she sighed, “certainly Jack Steyne is the nicer of the two; but then he is poor, and I don't believe in love in a cottage, especially as he doesn't really care a rap about me, only I flatter his vanity. He will go back to Helen, and she will forgive him, and pity me because I'm going to marry Mr. Simpson. I'll tell her about it on our way home. She'll think me dreadfully mercenary, but she'll be glad to get me out of the way.” A long pause; then: “It's very nice here, the sun is so warm. Poor Helen, she was awfully upset. She seems to worship that man. How soothing the sound of the waves is, it makes one quite drowsy. I'll just close my eyes. He really isn't worth all that devotion; no man is. Poor Helen.” Here the fair philosopher fell asleep.

Miss Whyte had a most vivid dream, wherein she fancied herself on board “H.M.S. Pinafore,” while Helen, dressed as Sir Joseph Porter, was ordering her to be “keel-hauled” for “conduct unbecoming to an officer and a gentleman.” So real did it seem that she thought the sentence was being carried out, and that she was already submerged as far as the knees. She woke with a start. What transformation scene was this, and what had happened to the beach. It had all disappeared. She lay for a moment, half dazed, and then in a flash came the solution of the mystery. Neither she nor Helen had thought of the tide. It must have been coming in when they arrived, and the sea being so very calm, the noise of the tiny waves approaching had not disturbed her slumbers till the ripples had reached her feet.

She looked at the point round which they must pass to gain the path that led to safety. The sea was gently heaving against the side of the cliff. But where was Helen all this time? Why had she not foreseen this page 64 danger? Could she, horrible thought, have made her escape and left Miss Whyte to perish? “She said she would never forgive me. But she couldn't do such a thing; she must be in the cave.” Thither Flossie ran. The low mouth of the cave was in a line with her own resting-place, and the ripples were just floating in. Coming so hastily out of the bright sunshine, Flossie at first could distinguish nothing in the gloom. Presently she made out a dark figure lying face downwards at the end of the cave. A new fear filled her heart. Was Helen dead? She hastened towards her, and with great relief heard a deep sob. She stooped down and grasped Helen's shoulder.

“Get up,” she cried. “Get up. Look at the tide!”

“The tide!” repeated Helen, rising. “What do you mean?”

Flossie pointed to the mouth of the cave.

It was answer enough. With an exclamation Helen rushed forward, Flossie following. Outside the cave all was water; even the little strip of sand which was visible when Flossie woke was now covered. The point they had to pass was by this time surrounded by deep water; nevertheless it was thither that Helen turned her eyes.

“I believe we can pass, Flossie,” she said; “I don't think it is out of our depth yet. At all events we must try.”

They started, but before they had got half way the water was up to their shoulders.

“It's no good. Will you stay here while I swim round for help?” asked Helen.

“No, no? you shan't leave me. You brought me here on purpose, and if I drown you shall drown too,” wailed Flossie, who had quite lost her head.

Helen made no reply. The accusation was of course ridiculous, but she did blame herself for not having thought of the tide. She looked round. It was quite hopeless to think of scaling the cliff, which was almost perpendicular. Suddenly she exclaimed—

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“The pulpit! It's all right Flossie; we are saved;” and she hastened towards the cliff, dragging the hapless Miss Whyte after her.

The pulpit was a detached, needle-like rock, jutting up through the sand at a short distance from the cliff. Its name had been given to it by Jack and Helen when children, and was due to the fact that at the top the rock ended in two irregular ledges, one above the other, the lowest and biggest being just capable of holding one person standing, and the upper one serving as a means of support to the adventurous wight who should climb so high. How many mock sermons had been preached by Jack Steyne in his youthful days, to an attentive audience of one, sitting on the sand beneath. A sudden remembrance of this came across Helen's mind, but there was no time for reminis-cences as the water round the rock was already waist-deep.

Helen had never been in the cove at high tide, but she was sure that the top of the rock was never covered. She helped Miss Whyte, at no time an expert climber, and now almost helpless with fear, and together they scrambled up till they stood exactly beneath the two ledges already mentioned. Here they were safe for the present, the water only just flowing over their feet. How much higher the tide would rise, Helen did not know, but she was certain that if they could gain the ledge they would be quite safe. Suddenly it struck her that the ledge would only hold one. She was sure of it, having often tried in vain to stand there with Jack. For a moment she hesitated, then—

“Now, Flossie, you must try and scramble up there; you will be quite safe. I know the water won't rise so high.”

But Miss Whyte could only wring her hands and sob out: “No, no; I can't climb up there; I should get so giddy”

“Well,” said Helen, impatiently, “take your choice. You may get giddy up there; you are almost sure to be drowned if you stay here.”

Thus urged, Miss Whyte consented to half clamber, half be hoisted on to the ledge. Arrived there, and holding tightly to the upper projection, she looked down on her companion.

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“But, Helen, what are you going to do?” she asked; “it's awfully narrow; do you think we can both stand here.”

“I'm going to try presently, when the water is deeper here,” answered Helen. “Now, let us shout for help.”

They did so, but in vain. The cliff echoed their cries, and the startled sea birds wheeled above their heads, but there was no answer, and the tide was still rising.

“Now,” said Helen, “I'm going to try and get higher up. Can you stoop and give me a hand?”

Miss Whyte did so, and Helen was climbing slowly up, when she gave a little cry and fell back, almost over-balancing her companion.

“What is the matter, Helen?”

“My ankle. I've twisted it! Oh!” And she moaned with pain.

“It's out of the question, my getting up there now,” she said presently. Besides, there isn't room for two, I know. I must wait here till help comes, or—–” She did not finish her sentence. She could not put her fate into words, though now, for the first time, she lost all hope. Miss Whyte began to cry again. Helen watched her with a sort of wonder. Why should Flossie weep? If she could only hold on till the tide turned she was safe, though no doubt her position would not be enviable.

Helen looked out to sea again.

The sails—white and brown—had all disappeared, the sun was setting, and the sea was like molten gold. The silence was intense, broken only by the occasional scream of a gull and the lapping of the water as it crept higher and higher. It was above her waist now. She made an effort, and, in spite of her injured foot, dragged herself an inch or two higher. Then she was obliged to stop—the pain was too great. She was standing on the sound foot, her hands clinging to the ledge whereon Miss Whyte was standing. The attitude was strained, and she felt very exhausted, her heavy serge dress dragging her down.

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“Let us shout once more,” she said to Miss Whyte, who had sunk down, a limp, white heap. They shouted, but their voices were weak and hoarse, and there was no reply.

Helen desisted, and returned to her dreamy thoughts. She wondered if her uncle and aunt would miss her much; she thought they would. And Jack, would he miss her? A bitter pang ran through her as she thought, “At any rate, he ought to be thankful to me. I have saved Flossie for him.”

By this time the water was up to her shoulders, and she was very weak.

“Flossie,” she murmured, “I can't hold any longer. Give my love to them all, and —–Jack.”

“Helen! you musn't let go. Try a little longer; I'm sure the tide is turning. Can't you scramble up now?”

Helen shook her head.

“It's no good, but I think you will be safe. Goodbye.”

At that instant a shout resounded from the top of the cliff. Both girls looked up, and Flossie sprang to her feet. It was Jack.

“Hold on!” he shouted. “For Heaven's sake, Flossie, keep up till I come,” and he disappeared.

It was the last drop in Helen's cup. She was physically unable to hold on any longer, and the idea that Flossie should be the first object in Jack's thoughts, took away all desire for life. She gave a long sigh, her weary hands relaxed their grasp, and as the next wave eddied gently away from the rock, it bore on its breast the body of Helen Graham.

* * * * *

Had Jack Steyne been half-an-hour later, it would have been too late to save Miss Whyte. As it was, what with the shock and exposure she was very ill. When she had recovered a little she and her mother went to London, whither they were followed by Mr. Simpson. Some page 68 months afterwards there was a short notice in the papers under the heading of marriages. Mrs. Simpson is greatly admired, and always has a cavaliere servante dangling after her. She is also remarkable for two peculiarities; she cannot bear the name of “Helen,” and she has a morbid horror of the sea. She and Jack Steyne have never met since that day.

The poor old rector heard of the death of his favourite niece through the carelessness of a servant. The shock was too much for him in his weak state, and he died on the day of Helen's funeral. After his death Mrs. Graham went to live with a sister.

Jack Steyne worked very hard at his profession for six or seven years. At the end of that time he married. His wife, a bright little brunette, adores her grave husband. She knows that he was engaged before to a girl who died, but she is not jealous of the memory for she also knows how fond her husband is of her now. The only secret Jack keeps from her, though not from fear of her anger, is the presence, in a drawer of his desk, of a little packet, which he sometimes looks at. It only contains a long lock of ruddy brown hair.