“Oh, how good and sweet and pure you are!” she murmured brokenly.
A quick, sudden flush, passing to all but Madison as one of demure and startled modesty, swept in a crimson tide to Helena’s face.
“You—you must not say that,” she faltered, shaking her head. “I—you must not say that.”
Mrs. Thornton smiled at her—and slipped her arm affectionately around Helena’s waist.
“I could not help it, dear,” she whispered. “It came spontaneously. And it makes me so happy to find you like this, and it makes it so much more a joy in doing what we have come to talk to you about.”
“What you have come to talk to me about?”—Helena, steadying herself, repeated the words almost composedly.
“Oh, yes,” said Mrs. Thornton, an eagerness in her voice again. “But—may we come in? Is it—”
“All may come in here,” Helena answered softly, “and”—her eyes met Thornton’s fixed gaze and dropped quickly—“please come in,” she ended abruptly.
The two women passed inside the cottage, Mrs. Thornton holding out her hand again to the little lad; while Holmes and his wife followed hesitantly, awed. In the rear, Thornton grasped Madison’s arm suddenly.
“I never saw such a beautiful face,” he whispered tensely. “It’s wonderful.”
“Yes,” assented Madison. “But everything here seems full of a rare, strange beauty, a hallowed something—it lifts one beyond material things. You feel it—a great, calm solemnity all about you.”
He closed the door softly behind him.
Mrs. Thornton’s eyes swept questioningly, anxiously and a little timidly about the plain, simple, quiet room; and then she spoke, her voice unconsciously hushed:
“He—he is not here?”
Helena shook her head, as she led Mrs. Thornton to a chair.
“Not now,” she said in a low voice. “The strain of this afternoon has left him very weary and very tired—much has gone out of him in response to the faith he felt but could not see.”
“But he knows?” said Mrs. Thornton eagerly, reaching for Helena’s hand. “He knows?”
“Yes,” Helena replied quietly, “he knows. He always knows.” She nodded gravely to the others. “Please sit down,” she said.
Madison quietly took the chair nearest the table; Thornton one a little in front of Madison and nearer his wife and Helena, who were close by the big, open fireplace; the two Holmes sat down on the edges of chairs a little behind Madison; while young Holmes knelt, his arms in Mrs. Thornton’s lap, his head turned a little sideways, his chin cupped in one hand, as he stared breathlessly around him.
It was the boy who broke the momentary silence.
“Ain’t that other fellow here, neither—the fellow that was worse’n me?” he whispered.
Helena leaned toward him.