When it was known in Oakland that Helena was dead, there came a reaction, and those who had been loudest in their condemnation, were now the first to hasten forward with offers of kindness and words of sympathy. But neither tears nor regrets could recall to life the fair young girl, who, wondrously beautiful even in death, slept calmly in her narrow coffin, a smile of sadness wreathing her lips, as if her last prayer had been for one who had robbed her thus early of happiness and life. In the bright green valley at the foot of the mountain, they buried her, and the old father, as he saw the damp earth fall upon her grave, asked that he too might die. But his wife, younger by several years, prayed to live—live that she might protect and care for the little orphan, who first by its young mother’s tears, and again by the waters of the baptismal fountain, was christened HELENA RIVERS;—the ’Lena of our story.
Ten years of sunlight and shadow have passed away, and the little grave at the foot of the mountain is now grass-grown and sunken. Ten times have the snows of winter fallen upon the hoary head of Grandfather Nichols, bleaching his thin locks to their own whiteness and bending his sturdy frame, until now, the old man lay dying—dying in the same blue-curtained room, where years agone his only daughter was born, and where ten years before she had died. Carefully did Mrs. Nichols nurse him, watching, weeping, and praying that he might live, while little ’Lena gladly shared her grandmother’s vigils, hovering ever by the bedside of her grandfather, who seemed more quiet when her soft hand smoothed his tangled hair or wiped the cold moisture from his brow. The villagers, too, remembering their neglect, when once before death had brooded over the mountain farmhouse, now daily came with offers of assistance.
But one thing still was wanting. John, their only remaining child, was absent, and the sick man’s heart grew sad and his eyes dim with tears, as day by day went by, and still he did not come. Several times had ’Lena written to her uncle, apprising him of his father’s danger, and once only had he answered. It was a brief, formal letter, written, evidently, under some constraint, but it said that he was coming, and with childish joy the old man had placed it beneath his pillow, withdrawing it occasionally for ’Lena to read again, particularly the passage, “Dear father, I am sorry you are sick.”
“Heaven bless him! I know he’s sorry,” Mr. Nichols would say. “He was always a good boy—is a good boy now. Ain’t he, Martha?”
And mother-like, Mrs. Nichols would answer, “Yes,” forcing back the while the tears which would start when she thought how long the “good boy” had neglected them, eighteen years having elapsed since he had crossed the threshold of his home.