When the school was over and the girls had all gone, Helen lingered in the schoolroom to speak with Mr. Bernard.
“Did you remark Elsie’s ways this forenoon?” she said.
“No, not particularly; I have not noticed anything as sharply as I commonly do; my head has been a little queer, and I have been thinking over what we were talking about, and how near I came to solving the great problem which every day makes clear to such multitudes of people. What about Elsie?”
“Bernard, her liking for you is growing into a passion. I have studied girls for a long while, and I know the difference between their passing fancies and their real emotions. I told you, you remember, that Rosa would have to leave us; we barely missed a scene, I think, if not a whole tragedy, by her going at the right moment. But Elsie is infinitely more dangerous to herself and others. Women’s love is fierce enough, if it once gets the mastery of them, always; but this poor girl does not know what to do with a passion.”
Mr. Bernard had never told Helen the story of the flower in his Virgil, or that other adventure—which he would have felt awkwardly to refer to; but it had been perfectly understood between them that Elsie showed in her own singular way a well-marked partiality for the young master.
“Why don’t they take her away from the school, if she is in such a strange, excitable state?” said Mr. Bernard.
“I believe they are afraid of her,” Helen answered. “It is just one of those cases that are ten thousand thousand times worse than insanity. I don’t think from what I hear, that her father has ever given up hoping that she will outgrow her peculiarities. Oh, these peculiar children for whom parents go on hoping every morning and despairing every night! If I could tell you half that mothers have told me, you would feel that the worst of all diseases of the moral sense and the will are those which all the Bedlams turn away from their doors as not being cases of insanity!”
“Do you think her father has treated her judiciously?” said Mr. Bernard.
“I think,” said Helen, with a little hesitation, which Mr. Bernard did not happen to notice,—“I think he has been very kind and indulgent, and I do not know that he could have treated her otherwise with a better chance of success.”
“He must of course be fond of her,” Mr. Bernard said; “there is nothing else in the world for him to love.”
Helen dropped a book she held in her hand, and, stooping to pick it up, the blood rushed into her cheeks.
“It is getting late,” she said; “you must not stay any longer in this close schoolroom. Pray, go and get a little fresh air before dinner-time.”
A soul in distress.
The events told in the last two chapters had taken place toward the close of the week. On Saturday evening the Reverend Chauncy Fairweather received a note which was left at his door by an unknown person who departed without saying a word. Its words were these: “One who is in distress of mind requests the prayers of this congregation that God would be pleased to look in mercy upon the soul that he has afflicted.”