the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLV - Helens Answer
THE boys with Jamie were spending
an evening at the Rolphes home about three weeks after their return
from the war. Dinner was over, and Mr. Rolphe had withdrawn to the
smoking-room with those who cared to share a cigar.
Willie suggested to Helen a stroll
in the garden, and with the kindly and hospitable Mrs. Rolphe nodding
approval, the young pair tripped off down the pathway leading to the
orchard. There was a pleasant greenhouse reached through two rows of
currant bushes. The greenhouse was completely covered with a thick
growth of interlacing vines, whose foliage afforded a perfect protection
from the suns rays. Towards this picturesque shelter the steps of the
young folks seemed to be instinctively directed.
Seating themselves on a rustic
bench, they looked into each others eyes, and while both had much to
say, neither seemed to know exactly where to begin, and there was an
awkward pause. It was, however, broken by the girl, who said
mischievously, "Why did you bring me to the greenhouse, Mr. McNabb?"
Willie was never a diplomat;
indeed, the marvel is that he ever succeeded with a woman at all.
"I didnt bring you, it was you
that brought me."
Helen would have been annoyed at
any one but Willie making such a reply; but she understood the young
mans blunt way of speaking, and she realised that it was the outcome of
his frankness. At the same time, she determined to punish him, and so
"Why, Mr. McNabb, I quite fail to
understand you! That I should beguile an innocent young soldier and lead
him against his will into a greenhouse!" And she rose and pretended to
"Oh, but you didnt beguile me,
Miss Rolphe!" said Willie, excitedly, and quite angry with himself for
having spoken so bluntly and stupidly. "And whats more, you didnt lead
me against my will! I wanted to come to the greenhouse, and now that we
are here, please sit down and talk. You will forgive me when you reflect
how unutterably stupid I am as a courtier."
"You are forgiven this time, on
condition that the next time you lead any simple and confiding girl to a
greenhouse, you will not lay the blame on her."
Willie perceived, by the merry
twinkle in Helens eyes, that he was quite forgiven, and being thus
reassured, he proceeded, "Do you remember, Miss Rolphe, the small
photograph of yourself that you sent me after Gettysburg?"
"Did I send you a photograph?"
queried Helen, with a mischievous expression in her eyes. "How forgetful
I am. One would think I would remember such an incident perfectly."
"Yes, you did," said Willie. "And
do you know it reached me when I was in the hospital?"
The mention of the wound softened
Helen, and she murmured audibly, and in a sympathetic tone, "Poor boy,
poor boy, how you must have suffered!"
"Oh, not more nor as much as
thousands of others," answered Willie. "But when your picture came, it
brought joy and gladness to me, and the nurses used to tease me by
saying it saved my life, for I began to improve from that time."
"Then," said Helen, with a look of
mischief chasing away the tears which had started to her eyes at the
recollection of Willies sufferings, "then we are quits; you saved my
life and now I have saved yours, at least my photograph did, and that is
just as good," and through her glistening tears the girl laughed
Willie enjoyed Helens lively
humour, and would have given much to hear the music of her bright
laughter continue, but an expression of sadness instantly succeeded the
girls merriment, and she said, placing her hand kindly on Willies arm:
"Wont you please forgive my levity this evening? You have done so much
for me that there is nothing I would not do for you in return."
Willie never liked to hear any
allusion to the adventure at the burning building, more especially from
Helen, who, he fancied, might think that he based some claim for
friendship upon the service he had then rendered. Taking Helens hand in
his own, while his blood flowed more swiftly through his veins, he said
slowly : "Miss
Rolphe, there is no risk that I would not take to save you, and you are
dearer to me than life itself, but the memory of that adventure years
ago, which was but a simple act of humanity, troubles me. It has had a
tendency to place a restraint on me with regard to yourself, the nature
of which you can divine. While I have always appreciated the generous
nature of the friendship and confidence you and your family have
bestowed upon me, the fear that it might be due to gratitude places a
restraint upon me which often makes me wish that it had been some one
else than I who rescued you."
"But I would not have it any one
else," broke in Helen, impetuously, while Willie proceeded :
"If the incident
could only be forgotten and wiped out of our lives, I think it would be
much easier for me, because I dont want to have even the shadow of a
claim of such a nature upon your friendship."
"But I dont want the incident
wiped out of our lives, and I dont see why you should object so much to
having some claim upon me. You may be quite sure, Mr. McNabb, that you
are in no way misunderstood by either my father or mother, and I shall
not pay you so poor a compliment as to offer any explanation with regard
Willie was comforted and his mind
set at rest. He said: "I have often wished that my introduction into
your family had come about in a natural and spontaneous way, instead of
being the result of the little service I rendered."
"But who knows," answered Helen,
while her eyes twinkled again, "that that little incident, as you call
it, was not the plan adopted by Providence to bring about greater
events? If it had not been for that, you and Colin would not have been
in the war under my uncle; you would not have saved the commander at
Gettysburg, and had General Meade and his staff all been slain who can
predict what the consequences would have been? Dont you see upon what
little incidents great history-making events are suspended"
Willie had got through an awkward
explanation about the rescue and the gratitude it was likely to beget,
and he was well pleased with the result. Now that he had got safely past
that milestone (indeed, Helens words convinced him that it was an
advantage rather than a drawback), he was anxious to declare his love,
for it was beginning to dawn even upon his own dense consciousness (for
in matters of the heart Willie was denseness personified) that Helen was
not unsympathetic towards him.
"What are you thinking about now
?" asked Helen, who observed by Willies face that a conflict was going
in his mind.
"I was thinking about you," he
"What an uninteresting subject!"
"To me it is all-absorbing," said
Willie, suddenly warming up, and being seized with a desperate resolve
to make the plunge.
"Wouldnt you like to change the
subject?" said Helen, banteringly, and the rippling laughter that
followed quite drove the desperate resolution from Willies head.
Suddenly, thinking of the hyacinth
that she gave him the night he said good-bye to her four years ago, he
produced the precious treasure from the recesses of its hiding-place,
and holding it up before her, said, "Do you know what that is, Miss
"Perhaps it is some flower you
gathered in the South, and which you keep to remind you of some event; I
see you have handled it carefully."
Willie rightly suspected that she
knew perfectly well the origin of the flower, and without choosing to
notice her answer, he availed himself of the liberty she had just
bestowed upon him, and said: "Helen, do you remember what you said to me
when you pinned that flower on my coat?"
"What did I say?" asked Helen, who
remembered very well the words she had addressed to the young man at
"You said, after hearing me speak
of my desire to take part in the work of liberating the slaves, Who
knows? you may prove your own liberator." Then, "Do you know, Helen
dear," said Willie, growing bolder as he realised that he was not
meeting with any repulse, but that on the contrary the "enemy " was
yielding per ceptibly to his advance movement, "do you know, the
remembrance came rushing upon me one day, and it brought hope into my
life, and now, Helen, I want you to tell me if I am liberated?"
"Are you quite sure you were in
slavery?" asked Helen.
"Need you ask?" answered the young
man, warmly. "You must have realised, from the day we met in the garden,
that I was as completely your slave as if you had purchased me on
the market." And he went on to talk as lovers have talked from the
beginning of time.
"Willie, Willie," Helen at last
exclaimed, "you are liberated !"
Willie folded the beautiful girl
to his breast, gazed into her eyes, and smoothed back her flowing hair
while he kissed her fondly. He was too happy to speak.
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