Helen had imbided during her Sunday-school days the usual formulas of dogmatic religion, but upon matters of morality her ideas were of the vaguest possible description. The guide of her life had always been her instinct for happiness, her “genial sense of youth.” She had never formulated any rule of life to herself, but that which she sought was joy, primarily for herself, and incidentally for other people, because unhappy people were disturbing (unless it were possible to avoid them). In debating within herself the arguments which her aunt had brought before her mind, it was that principle chiefly by which she tested them.
To the girl’s eager nature, keenly sensitive to pleasure and greedy for it, the prospect so suddenly flung wide before her eyes was so intoxicating that again and again as she thought of it it made her tremble and burn. So far as Helen could see at that moment, a marriage with this Mr. Harrison would mean the command of every source of happiness; and upon a scale so magnificent, so belittling of everything she had known before, that she shrank from it as something impossible and unnatural. Again and again she buried her heated brow in her hands and muttered: “I ought to have known it before! I ought to have had time to realize it.”
That which restrained the girl from welcoming such an opportunity, from clasping it to her in ecstasy and flinging herself madly into the whirl of pleasure it held out, was not so much her conscience and the ideals which she had formed more or less vaguely from the novels and poems she had read, as the instinct of her maidenhood, which made her shrink from the thought of marriage with a man whom she did not love. So strong was this feeling in her that at first she felt that she could not even bear to be introduced to him with such an idea in her mind.
It was Aunt Polly’s wisdom and diplomacy which finally overcame her scruples enough to persuade her to that first step; Helen kept thinking of her aunt’s words—that no one wanted to compel her to marry the man, that she might do just as she chose. She argued that it was foolish to worry herself, or to be ill at ease. She might see what sort of a man he was; if he fell in love with her it would do no harm,—Helen was not long in discovering by the increased pace of her pulses that she would find it exciting to have everyone know that a multimillionaire was in love with her. “As for the rest,” she said to herself, “we’ll see when the time comes,” and knew not that one who goes to front his life’s temptation with that resolution is a mariner who leaves the steering of his vessel to the tempest.