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Colin of the Ninth Concession
Chapter XLV - Helen’s 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 Rolphe had withdrawn to the smoking-room with those who cared to share a cigar.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 sun’s 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 other’s 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 didn’t 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 man’s 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 she said:

"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 be going.

"Oh, but you didn’t beguile me, Miss Rolphe!" said Willie, excitedly, and quite angry with himself for having spoken so bluntly and stupidly. "And what’s more, you didn’t 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 Helen’s 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 Willie’s 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 merrily.

Willie enjoyed Helen’s lively humour, and would have given much to hear the music of her bright laughter continue, but an expression of sadness instantly succeeded the girl’s merriment, and she said, placing her hand kindly on Willie’s arm: "Won’t 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 Helen’s 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 don’t want to have even the shadow of a claim of such a nature upon your friendship."

"But I don’t want the incident wiped out of our lives, and I don’t 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 to myself."

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? Don’t 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, Helen’s 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 Willie’s face that a conflict was going in his mind.

"I was thinking about you," he answered.

"What an uninteresting subject!" she rejoined.

"To me it is all-absorbing," said Willie, suddenly warming up, and being seized with a desperate resolve to make the plunge.

"Wouldn’t you like to change the subject?" said Helen, banteringly, and the rippling laughter that followed quite drove the desperate resolution from Willie’s 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 Roiphe?"

"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 parting.

"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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