“That may come in time,” said the other, kissing her tenderly, and smiling. “There is no need to talk of it, for you are too young to marry, anyway. And in the meantime we must find him.”
There was a long silence after that. Helen sat down on the sofa beside her father and put her arms about him and leaned her head upon his bosom, drinking in deep drafts of his pardon and love. She told him about Mr. Howard, and of the words of counsel which he had given her, and how he was coming to see her again. Afterwards the conversation came back to Arthur and his love for Helen, and then Mr. Davis went on to add something that caused Helen to open her eyes very wide and gaze at him in wonder.
“There is still another reason for wishing to find him soon,” he said, “for something else has happened to-day that he ought to know about.”
“What is it?” asked Helen.
“I don’t know that I ought to tell you about it just now,” said the other, “for it is a very sad story. But someone was here to see Arthur this morning—someone whom I never expected to see again in all my life.”
“To see Arthur?” echoed the girl in perplexity. “Who could want to see Arthur?” As her father went on she gave a great start.
“It was his mother,” said Mr. Davis.
And Helen stared at him, gasping for breath as she echoed the words, “His mother!”
“You may well be astonished,” said the clergyman. “But the woman proved beyond doubt that she was really the person who left Arthur with me.”
“You did not recognize her?”
“No, Helen; for it has been twenty-one or two years since I saw her, and she has changed very much since then. But she told me that in all that time she has never once lost sight of her boy, and has been watching all that he did.”
“Where has she been?”
“She did not tell me,” the other answered, “but I fancy in New York. The poor woman has lived a very dreadful life, a life of such wretched wickedness that we cannot even talk about it; I think I never heard of more cruel suffering. I was glad that you were not here to see her, or know about it until after she was gone; she said that she had come to see Arthur once, because she was going away to die.”
“To die!” exclaimed the girl, in horror.
“Yes,” said Mr. Davis, “to die; she looked as if she could not live many days longer. I begged her to let me see that she was provided for, but she said that she was going to find her way back to her old home, somewhere far off in the country, and she would hear of nothing else. She would not tell the name of the place, nor her own name, but she left a letter for Arthur, and begged me to find him and give it to him, so that he might come and speak to her once if he cared to do so. She begged me to forgive her for the trouble she had caused me, and to pray that God would forgive her too; and then she bade me farewell and dragged herself away.”