The thought was a death-knell to Helen’s last hope, and she sank down, quite overcome; she knew that Arthur could have had but one motive in acting as he had,—that he meant to cut himself off entirely from all his old life and surroundings. He had no friends in Hilltown, and having lived all alone, it would be possible for him to do it. Helen remembered Mr. Howard’s saying of the night before, how the sight of her baseness might wreck a man’s life forever, and the more she thought of that, the more it made her tremble. It seemed almost more than she could bear to see this fearful consequence of her sin, and to know that it had become a fact of the outer world, and gone beyond her power. It seemed quite too cruel that she should have such a thing on her conscience, and have it there forever; most maddening of all was the thought that it had depended upon a few hours of time.
“Oh, how can I have waited!” she moaned. “I should have come last night, I should have stopped the carriage when I saw him! Oh, it is not possible!”
Perhaps there are no more tragic words in human speech than “Too late.” Helen felt just then as if the right even to repentance were taken from her life. It was her first introduction to that fearful thing of which Mr. Howard had told her upon their first meeting; in the deep loneliness of her own heart Helen was face to face just then with FATE. She shrank back in terror, and she struggled frantically, but she felt its grip of steel about her wrist; and while she sat there with her face hidden, she was learning to gaze into its eyes, and front their fiery terror. When she looked up again her face was very white and pitiful to see, and she rose from her chair and went toward the door so unsteadily that the woman put her arm about her.
“You will tell me,” she gasped faintly—“you will tell me if you hear anything?”
“Yes,” said the other gently, “I will.”
So Helen crept into the carriage again, looking so full of wretchedness that her companion knew that the worst must have happened, and took the reins and silently drove towards home, while the girl sat perfectly still. They were fully half way home before she could find a word in which to tell him of her misery. “I shall never be happy in my life again!” she whispered. “Oh, Mr. Howard, never in my life!”
When the man gazed at her, he was frightened to see how grief and fear had taken possession of her face; and yet there was no word that he could say to soothe her, and no hope that he could give her. When the drive was ended, she stole silently up to her room, to be alone with her misery once more.
“Thou majestic in thy sadness.”