“Am I preaching? Well, in my case the time for make-believe is over. I am too near the end. The simple and austere soul of things seems to shine out—
“And yet what I ask you is neither simple, nor austere! Take care of Helena for two years. Give her fun, and society,—a good time, and every chance to marry. Then, after two years, if she hasn’t married—if she hasn’t fallen in love—–she must choose her course.
“You may well feel you are too young—indeed I wish, for this business, you were older!—but you will find some nice woman to be hostess and chaperon; the experiment will interest and amuse you, and the time will soon go. You know I could not ask you—unless some things were—as they are. But that being so, I feel as if I were putting into your hands the chance of a good deed, a kind deed,—blessing, possibly, him that gives, and her that takes. And I am just now in the mood to feel that kindness is all that matters, in this mysterious life of ours. Oh, I wish I had been kinder—to so many people!—I wish—I wish! The hands stretched out to me in the dark that I have passed by—the voices that have piped to me, and I have not danced—
“I mustn’t cry. It is hard that in one of the few cases when I had the chance to be kind, and did not wholly miss it, I should be making in the end a selfish bargain of it—claiming so much more than I ever gave!
“Forgive me, my best of friends—
“You shall come and see me once about this letter, and then we won’t discuss it again—ever. I have talked over the business side of it with my lawyer, and asked him to tell you anything you don’t yet know about my affairs and Helena’s. We needn’t go into them.”
“One of the few cases where I had the chance to be kind.” Why, Rachel Pitstone’s life had been one continuous selfless offering to God and man, from her childhood to her last hour! He knew very well what he had owed her—what others had owed—to her genius for sympathy, for understanding, for a compassion which was also a stimulus. He missed her sorely. At that very moment, he was in great practical need of her help, her guidance.
Whereas it was he—worse luck!—who must be the stumbling and unwelcomed guide of Rachel’s child! How, in the name of mystery, had the child grown up so different from the mother? Well, impatience wouldn’t help him—he must set his mind to it. That scoundrel, Jim Donald!
Mrs. Friend passed a somewhat wakeful night after the scene in which Helena Pitstone had bestowed her first confidences on her new companion. For Lucy Friend the experience had been unprecedented and agitating. She had lived in a world where men and women do not talk much about themselves, and as a rule instinctively avoid thinking much about themselves, as a habit tending to something they call “morbid.” This at least had been the tone in her parents’ house.