“I am sorry to say that it is about myself,” she went on, when the other had expressed his willingness to hear her, “for I want to ask you to help me, and to give me some advice. I ought to have asked you the questions I am going to before this, but the last time I saw you I could think about nothing but Arthur. They only came to me after you had gone.”
“What are they?” asked the man.
“You must knew, Mr. Howard,” said Helen, “that it is you who have shown me the wrongness of all that I was doing in my life, and stirred me with a desire to do better. I find now that such thoughts have always been so far from me that the wish to be right is all that I have, and I do not know at all what to do. It seemed to me that I would rather talk to you about it than to anyone, even my own father. I do not know whether that is just right, but you do not mind my asking you, do you?”
“It is my wish to help you in every way that I can,” was the gentle response.
“I will tell you what I have been thinking,” said Helen. “I have been so unhappy in the last three days that I have done nothing at all; but it seemed to me somehow that it must be wrong of me to let go of myself in that way—as if I had no right to pamper myself and indulge my own feelings. It was not that I wished to forget what wrong things I have done, or keep from suffering because of them; yet it seemed to me that the fact that I was wretched and frightened was no excuse for my doing no good for the rest of my life. When I have thought about my duty before, it has always been my school-girl’s task of studying and practicing music, but that is not at all what I want now, for I cannot bear to think of such things while the memory of Arthur is in my mind. I need something that is not for myself, Mr. Howard, and I find myself thinking that it should be something that I do not like to do.”
Helen paused for a moment, gazing at the other anxiously; and then she went on: “You must know that what is really behind what I am saying is what you said that evening in the arbor, about the kind of woman I ought to be because God has made me beautiful. My heart is full of a great hunger to be set right, and to get a clearer sight of the things that are truly good in life. I want you to talk to me about your own ideals, and what you do to keep your life deep and true; and then to tell me what you would do in my place. I promise you that no matter how hard it may be I shall feel that just what you tell me to do is my duty, and at least I shall never be happy again until I have done it. Do you understand how I feel, Mr. Howard?”
“Yes,” the man answered, in a quiet voice, “I understand you perfectly.” And then as he paused, watching the girl from beneath his dark brows, Helen asked, “You do not mind talking to me about yourself?”
“When a man lives all alone and as self-centered as I,” the other replied, smiling, “it is fatally easy for him to do that; he may blend himself with his ideals in such a curious way that he never talks about anything else. But if you will excuse that, I will tell you what I can.”