But she could not rest. When would the weary day be over, and the longed-for rather than welcome night appear? Again she went into the garden, and down to the end of it, and looked out over the meadow. Not a creature was in sight, except a red and white cow, a child gathering buttercups, and a few rooks crossing from one field to another. It was a glorious day; the sun seemed the very centre of conscious peace. And now first, strange to say, Helen began to know the bliss of bare existence under a divine sky, in the midst of a divine air, the two making a divine summer, which throbbed with the presence of the creative spirit--but as something apart from her now, something she had had, but had lost, which could never more be hers. How could she ever be glad again, with such a frightful fact in her soul! Away there beyond those trees lay her unhappy brother, in the lonely house, now haunted indeed. Perhaps he lay there dead! The horrors of the morning, or his own hand, might have slain him. She must go to him. She would defy the very sun, and go in the face of the universe. Was he not her brother?--Was there no help anywhere? no mantle for this sense of soul-nakedness that had made her feel as if her awful secret might be read a mile away, lying crimson and livid in the bottom of her heart. She dared hardly think of it, lest the very act should betray the thing of darkness to the world of light around her. Nothing but the atmosphere of another innocent soul could shield hers, and she had no friend. What did people do when their brothers did awful deeds? She had heard of praying to God--had indeed herself told her brother to pray, but it was all folly--worse, priestcraft. As if such things AND a God could exist together! Yet, even with the thought of denial in her mind, she looked up, and gazed earnestly into the wide innocent mighty space, as if by searching she might find some one. Perhaps she OUGHT to pray. She could see no likelihood of a God, and yet something pushed her towards prayer. What if all this had come upon her and Poldie because she never prayed! If there were such horrible things in the world, although she had never dreamed of them--if they could come so near her, into her very soul, making her feel like a murderess, might there not be a God also, though she knew nothing of his whereabouts or how to reach him and gain a hearing? Certainly if things went with such hellish possibilities at the heart of them, and there was no hand at all to restrain or guide or restore, the world was a good deal worse place than either the Methodists or the Positivists made it out to be. In the form of feelings, not of words, hardly even of thoughts, things like these passed through her mind as she stood on the top of the sunk fence and gazed across the flat of sunny green before her. She could almost have slain herself to be rid of her knowledge and the awful consciousness that was its result. SHE would have found no difficulty in that line of Macbeth:--"To know my deed, 'twere best not know myself."--But all this time there was her brother! She MUST go to him. "God hide me," she cried within her. "But how can he hide me," she thought, "when I am hiding a murderer?" "O God," she cried again, and this time in an audible murmur, "I am his sister, thou knowest!" Then she turned, walked back to the house, and sought her aunt.
"I have got a little headache," she said quite coolly, "and I want a long walk. Don't wait luncheon for me. It is such a glorious day! I shall go by the Millpool road, and across the park. Good-bye till tea, or perhaps dinner-time even."
"Hadn't you better have a ride and be back to luncheon? I shan't want Jones to-day," said her aunt mournfully, who, although she had almost given up birthdays, thought her niece need not quite desert her on the disagreeable occasion.
"I'm not in tne humour for riding, aunt. Nothing will do me good but a walk. I shall put some luncheon in my bag."
She went quietly out by the front door, walked slowly, softly, statelily along the street and out of the town, and entered the park by the lodge-gate. She saw Rachel at her work in the kitchen as she passed, and heard her singing in a low and weak but very sweet voice, which went to her heart like a sting, making the tall, handsome, rich lady envy the poor distorted atom who, through all the fogs of her winter, had yet something in her that sought such utterance. But, indeed, if all her misery had been swept away like a dream, Helen might yet have envied the dwarf ten times more than she did now, had she but known how they stood compared with each other. For the being of Helen to that of Rachel was as a single, untwined primary cell to a finished brain; as the peeping of a chicken to the song of a lark--I had almost said, to a sonata of Beethoven.
"Good day, Rachel," she said, calling as she passed, in a kindly, even then rather condescending voice, through the open door, where a pail of water, just set down, stood rocking the sun on its heaving surface, and flashing it out again into the ocean of the light. It seemed to poor Helen a squalid abode, but it was a home-like palace, and fairly furnished, in comparison with the suburban villa and shop-upholstery which typified the house of her spirit--now haunted by a terrible secret walking through its rooms, and laying a bloody hand upon all their whitenesses.
There was no sound all the way as she went but the noise of the birds, and an occasional clank from the new building far away. At last, with beating heart and scared soul, she was within the high garden-wall, making her way through the rank growth of weeds and bushes to the dismal house. She entered trembling, and the air felt as if death had been before her. Hardly would her limbs carry her, but with slow step she reached the hidden room. He lay as she had left him. Was he asleep, or dead? She crept near and laid her hand on his forehead. He started to his feet in an agony of fright. She soothed and reassured him as best she was able. When the paroxysm relaxed--
"You didn't whistle," he said.
"No; I forgot," answered Helen, shocked at her own carelessness. "But if I had, you would not have heard me: you were fast asleep."
"A good thing I was! And yet no! I wish I had heard you, for then by this time I should have been beyond their reach."
Impulsively he showed her the short dangerous looking weapon he carried. Helen stretched out her hand to take it, but he hurriedly replaced it in his pocket.
"I will find some water for you to wash with," said Helen. "There used to be a well in the garden, I remember. I have brought you a shirt."
With some difficulty she found the well, all but lost in matted weeds under an ivy-tod, and in the saucer of a flower-pot she carried him some water, and put the garment with the horrible spot in her bag, to take it away and destroy it. Then she made him eat and drink. He did whatever she told him, with a dull, yet doglike obedience. His condition was much changed; he had a stupefied look, and seemed only half awake to his terrible situation. Yet he answered what questions she put to him even too readily--with an indifferent matter-of-factness, indeed, more dreadful than any most passionate outburst. But at the root of the apparent apathy lay despair and remorse,--weary, like gorged and sleeping tigers far back in their dens. Only the dull torpedo of misery was awake, lying motionless on the bottom of the deepest pool of his spirit.
The mood was favourable to the drawing of his story from him, but there are more particulars in the narrative I am now going to give than Helen at that time learned.